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.

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]

The River Taw Fisheries Association Newsletter

posted in: Game Fishing, Sidebar | 0

The River Taw Fisheries Associations latest newsletter is an informative read and I must give special thanks to their Chairman Alex Gibson for permitting me to reproduce it here on North Devon Angling News.

Chairman: Alex Gibson
Lower Braggamarsh House

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


George Marsh
Buscott, 21 Station Road
Ashcott, Bridgwater
Somerset TA7 9QP
Tel: 01458 210 544
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

The season got off to a poor start. We lost the first six weeks because of freezing weather and then a number of large spates. As the river settled few salmon were caught and sea trout were late to arrive. By the end of May only about 15 salmon and the same number of sea trout had been caught. We must hope that

our migratory fish are simply a month or so late like everything else in the countryside this year.

Last season was mixed – quite good for salmon fishermen, but very poor for those who target sea trout. The beat survey showed 286 salmon and 214 sea trout. (2016 numbers: 185 salmon and 302 sea trout.) This is the first time that I can remember sea trout numbers being below salmon numbers. No-one can come up with a plausible explanation or, perhaps more importantly, a remedy. We do know that sea trout numbers can fluctuate quite dramatically and we must hope for a bounce back. The EA rod catch numbers for 2017 were 243 salmon (88% returned) and 193 sea trout (81% returned). Brown trout fishing had another good year with about 2,300 fish caught, roughly the same as 2016 even though conditions were less favourable.

Members kindly took part in the EA Salmon & Sea Trout Consultation and will have heard about the proposed National Protection Byelaws that should become effective next year if all goes to plan. For us this will mean an end to salmon and sea trout netting in the Taw/Torridge estuary and a requirement on us to reach and maintain a catch and release rate for salmon of at least 90% or face the imposition of 100% C&R. We have never reached 90%, so all fishermen will have to apply themselves. Those who rent out fishing and those who invite guests to fish their beat will need to get the message across. It is unfortunate that our River Taw Byelaws with their out-dated bag limits convey the wrong message.

The IFCA netting byelaws were finally approved and as a result the salmon and sea trout by-catch in our estuary is now a thing of the past. Everyone should be congratulated for their efforts during a long and complicated campaign.

Two major water quality problems are taking much of the Committee’s time at the moment; siltation and sewage treatment works (STWs). The articles later in the Newsletter by Mark Lloyd and Bill Beaumont directly address the first of these problems. Laurence Couldrick’s article addresses the second.

Everyone who fishes our river, with the exception perhaps of those who fish the Bray, will have noticed a huge increase in the amount of silt in the river. The deterioration of the Mole is particularly worrisome. The growing of winter maize is the main culprit. The run-off from fields is dramatic, particularly when combined with a very wet winter and spring. As a non-farmer I am amazed that some farmers are so uncaring about their top-soil. It is in a real sense their equity. There are three anaerobic biodigestors on the Taw system and they have an enormous appetite for maize. Not only that, but they operate on an owner self- monitored basis. If anything should go wrong there will be a major pollution incident with fish kills, as happened recently on a tributary of the Tamar. We can do no more than keep our fingers crossed.

As for STWs, we have at least 35 on the Taw catchment. All of them out-flow into our river and all of them belong to South West Water. The question is – how many are fit for purpose today and how many will be fit for purpose tomorrow as more and more houses are built in the towns and villages of our catchment? We are applying as much pressure as we can on SWW, working with like-minded organisations including Angling Trust and South West Rivers Trust. We have to encourage SWW to do the right amount of maintenance and investment. Like biodigestors, STWs are also owner self-monitored, a term that does not inspire confidence. We are trying to establish what the EA’s overseeing role is and how actively they are fulfilling it.

Northam Landfill continues to lurk in the background with 650,000 cubic metres of waste in danger of being exposed to the Taw/Torridge estuary. Strorms last winter ate away at the Burrows and brought the problem into greater focus. We are adding our voice to those keen for proper protective action to be taken.

River improvement work was carried out on the Little Dart and its tributary, the Sturcombe, on a match-funded basis between RTFA an

WRT. 13 debris dams were cleared and 17 spawning gravel sites cleaned. Selective coppicing and wood debris enhancement work was carried out over about 3km of bank. This work will continue this year. In our river improvement plans there will be an emphasis generally on gravel cleaning. Bill Beaumont’s article explains why. Any change in farming practice to reduce siltation will take time and is not within our control. Gravel cleaning has an immediate effect and we do have control over it.

This year the EA will carry out its 6-yearly juvenile survey at 67 sites. To enable us to “read” the river effectively and prioritise river work we need to find a way to finance the WRT’s fry index surveys in the intermediate years. Each of these surveys cost about £8,500. Some financing ideas are being worked on.

The Taw has lagged behind other rivers in providing volunteers for the Riverfly Partnership. This season we are making a big effort to redress this situation. 8 potential volunteers have been identified for training. Over time their surveys will add to our knowledge of the water quality and general health of the Taw.

I am concerned about what I perceive as a lack of fishing effort on the river, especially since we have lost the early part of the season to the weather and there is always the threat of drought conditions as we move into summer. Rod catch numbers are an important indicator of the health of a river and its fish stocks. So please, when the river is fishable get out there and fish.

A final point. Please have a careful read of Roger Furniss’s article. Before long we may need to review our constitution which has a rather old-fashioned look about it.

Hon. Treasurer’s Report

The Association continues to work to improve the Taw catchment and last season made two donations, £3,870 and £5,000, on a match-funded basis with WRT for river improvement projects on the Little Dart.. We will be committing to further projects next season, again with WRT on a match-funded basis.

Currently our own cash resources total almost £14,000 and we also have an additional £23,000 held to our account at WRT. This is a comfortable position, but river improvement work is expensive and we must continue to seek additional funding sources

Alex Gibson



RTFA held another very successful AGM and auction at Highbullen Hotel in March. Following on from the success of last year, the auction this year raised a total of £4,280, a very important boost to RTFA funds. Thanks must be given to those who donated auction lots and to those who organised the auction and its delivery.

Subscriptions & Membership

Subscriptions are due in April and I am pleased to report that we are now receiving the majority of subs via standing order. This is good news. A total of £3,640 has been collected. May I remind you all that the RTFA bank details for setting up a standing order can be found on our website under the heading Membership, along with

application forms for new members. New members are asked to complete an application form and send it to me for our records, but at the same time please set up your standing order and inform me when you have done so.

Recruitment continues. We have 5 new members this year and I am sure this figure will increase as the season progresses.

Full Members (Riparian Owners) £35.00 Associate Members £15.00

Raising money requires hard work and commitment. I would like to thank you for your continued support.

Contact details

[email protected]
Blakewell Fisheries, Muddiford, Barnstaple, North Devon EX31 4ET.

RTFA AGM and Dinner

River Taw Fisheries Association AGM Friday 22nd March 2019

Highbullen Hotel

Richard Nickell

Hon. Treasurer

The Environment Agency (EA)

It was good to speak to so many of you at the AGM in March. As regards Fisheries Enforcement Officer numbers in Devon we have remained the same as last year, but the addition of the fully warranted part time officers has been of great benefit. In line with all Enforcement Agencies we operate an intelligence- led approach to enforcement, so you all have an important role, acting as eyes and ears for your river. Please continue to report any suspected illegal fishing activities 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.

So far this season I have not had any reports of diseased salmon in the Taw which is good news. Again please update me if you do see any diseased fish.

Bio-security is of great importance for river users to prevent the transfer of invasive aquatic species. Please adopt the “Check, Clean, Dry” approach with all your fishing equipment particularly if you fish on a variety of different waters. For more information go to www.nonnativespecies.org/checkcleandry

I mentioned at the AGM that this summer, weather permitting, we will be carrying out the full Taw catchment electro- fishing programme at 67 sites. This should give a comprehensive review of the current juvenile stock status in the catchment.

Paul Carter

EA Fisheries Enforcement Officer North Devon [email protected]

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

Save our soils to rescue our rivers

Over the past 60 years, we’ve seen a dramatic change in farming practices and land use choices, driven principally by
high intensity production of cheap food and European subsidies. This has led to the soils on which we depend forfood throughout England and Wales becoming damaged and eroded, causing widespread pollution and flooding. Agriculture is now responsible for the highest number of serious pollution incidents of any sector and is the main reason why only 14% of rivers are in good health.

Bare fields of maize, stubble turnips, over-grazed pasture, slurry spreading and winter-wheat have all led to vast amounts of soil, nutrients and water washing off the land into rivers and lakes. This has a disastrous impact on aquatic wildlife because it smothers insects and fish eggs in gravels on river beds and leads to algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water. It also heaps costs on the rest of society. Government research estimates the costs of poorly-managed soil to be £1.2 billion each year, or £23 million a week. We are losing soil at around ten times the rate that it is being produced, which is fundamentally unsustainable.

By contrast, healthy soils have high organic matter content, a strong, porous structure and a wide range of soil organisms including worms, fungi and bacteria that work symbiotically with plants to produce more nutritious food and lock up carbon underground. They allow free percolation of water to replenish groundwater storage and keep rivers flowing in summer droughts.

Of course we have to keep on farming, but we do need to change farm practices significantly to save our soils and rescue our rivers for future generations. Simple measures like minimising soil disturbance, sowing rows across the slope, planting follow-on crops to avoid bare fields, reducing stocking densities and slurry quantities can all make a dramatic difference. In high-risk areas (probably less than 10% of the area of a catchment) land-use change will be needed, such as switching from arable to pasture or pasture to woodland.

There have been initiatives such as Catchment Sensitive Farming which have offered advice to farmers and land managers. These have been a step in the right direction, but have largely failed at a strategic scale. Too often they’ve worked with farmers who are most receptive to change, rather than those who are causing the biggest problems. Uncertainty about budgets, inappropriate targets and a lack of clear objectives has led to high staff turnover and an incoherent approach.

Most importantly, advice hasn’t been backed up by a credible enforcement regime. The government has directed the Environment Agency and Rural Payments Agency to take a light touch approach to enforcement and has slashed

budgets to a point where the EA is now able to visit fewer than 1% of farms each year. The many farmers who are following the rules are exasperated to see their neighbours cutting corners and getting away with it.

The government has at last recognised these strategic failures, and it is running a consultation about the future of farming in advance of an agriculture bill. The Angling Trust, WWF and The Rivers Trust have teamed up to write a report setting out a pathway towards a more sustainable future for land and water.

Achieving fundamental change across more than 100,000 farms in England and Wales will require a co-ordinated approach with four complementary measures:

  •   Alignment to a clear set of objectives and planning process in each catchment by all relevant organisations, co-ordinated by the Catchment Based Approach network;
  •   Firm but fair enforcement by the Environment Agency of existing and new regulations to outlaw excessive soil erosion, water run-off and pollution;
  •   Local, well-trained, expert advisors providing free, advice targeted at the higher risk landowners;
  •   Targeted incentives to enable land use change in high risk areas of the catchment (probably less than 10% of land area).

    The Government intends to phase out direct payments to farmers and move to a new system where public money requires delivery of public benefits. Our report estimates that to reimburse farmers fully for changing land-use in England would cost less than £500m per year out of the £2.3 billion subsidies currently paid in England and Wales.

    We estimate that enforcement and advice will cost just £10 million a year – a fraction of the cost to society of continuing with our current approach. This is a no-brainer of epic proportions that could transform the state of our natural environment rapidly and ensure that we have food and water for the next generation.

Fishing Hotels on the Taw and Mole

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

Mark Lloyd

Chief Executive, Angling Trust

Tel: 01769 540561 01769 580345 01769 560447

Salmon spawning gravels in the chalk streams
of Southern England and their impact on egg survival.

In recent years declines in Atlantic salmon numbers and catches have given cause for concern in many of the southern chalk rivers. Several potential causes for such changes have been suggested, including factors operative in both the marine and freshwater phases of the life of the salmon. There is, however, a strong viewpoint that problems at the early freshwater stages could be of major significance.

Whilst the composition and quality of salmon spawning areas have been reasonably well studied in North America, in the UK there have been very few published investigations in the UK on gravel composition that is suitable for Atlantic salmon.

Over most of the stream beds of the chalk rivers of Southern England, the gaps between the larger gravels are filled by finer sediments and in many places, there is an overlying blanket of sand or silt, often associated with growths of aquatic plants. There is a seasonal cycle of low-flow (spring/summer) sediment deposition followed by high-flow (autumn/winter) wash out. In general, by the time that salmon spawn (normally December onwards), the shallower, faster flowing reaches of river which they select for redd construction will have been swept free of fine sediment by the seasonal increases in discharge. In addition, the female fish disturb the gravel and, in the process, winnow away clogging interstitial material. In normal conditions this redd construction creates an open structure which persists for sufficient time to permit adequate irrigation of the egg pockets by flowing, oxygenated water, thus promoting egg development and, ultimately, enabling emergence of fry If, however, the flushing flows are inadequate or conversely, if the sediment load is greatly increased, it may be that the areas of suitable spawning gravel are greatly reduced or degraded. In these situations, if the female fish are unable to loosen, excavate and/or winnow redds or the interstices of redds become blocked by fine particles during development and prior to emergence, then the spawning will be a partial or complete failure. In the case of blockage of interstices during development, it is known that when fine (less than 2 mm) sediment is more than 20% by weight and/or less than 1 mm sediment is more than 15% by weight, reduced survival is likely.

Several factors are known to contribute to increases in fine sediment loading of streams. Impacts from abstraction of water, reduced weed growth, forestry operations, enhanced erosion of the land surface, aquaculture e.g. discharge from fish farms and cress beds, poor agricultural practice, etc. are all likely to have detrimental effects on the river’s fine sediment load. Recent changes in agricultural practices are causing particular concern, increased growing of maize as a silage or biofuel crop (a 2,500% increase in acreage over

the last 40 years) and intensification of livestock farming are known causes of increased sediment loads entering rivers.

Several fisheries have historically cleaned areas of gravel where salmonids are known to spawn. With evidence increasingly suggesting that siltation of spawning gravels may be a significant cause in the widespread decline in salmon numbers, (Solomon 1992, Scott and Beaumont 1993) there is now a resurgence of interest in the natural composition and the impacts of cleaning of salmon spawning gravels.

To establish the structure of potential spawning gravels in southern England, a gravel composition survey of sites on the rivers Hampshire Avon, Wylye, Nadder, Dorset Frome and Piddle was carried out. The objective of the study was to compare conditions between and within rivers, to determine the particle size composition of spawning gravels, and to consider the implications of the results obtained on likely salmon spawning success.

To obtain detailed information on gravel bed structure, bed samples need to be collected, as far as is possible, in an undisturbed state. To do this freeze cores were taken of the stream bed. A copper pipe was inserted into the riverbed and 2 litres of liquid nitrogen was gradually poured into the pipe over

a 5-10 min period. The pipe with frozen attached sediment was then withdrawn and laid on a tray to thaw. The tray was partitioned transversely into 100 mm sections to permit depth stratification of the sample.

Gravel cores were collected from the rivers during March, a period when salmonid eggs and alevins would still be present in the gravel and hence the data would be applicable to their survival. Cores were taken either from areas of known salmon spawning activity or from areas where salmon were known to have spawned in previous years but actual redds were avoided. In all cases the extreme margins of the river were avoided.

Sediment analysis was carried out by washing the gravel through a succession of sieves. Sand indices were calculated for all sites. This index looks at the ratio of coarse to fine sand in a sample and relates it to the probability of a salmon egg surviving to emergence. For this study particle size categories of 2.0 mm to 0.5 mm and 0.5 mm to 0.063 mm have been used for the coarse and fine sand respectively.

The study showed that from the point of view of salmon spawning conditions, all the chalk streams studied had Sand Indices above levels at which reduced emergence of salmon fry may be expected to occur, with even the best river gravels in

the region having reduced emergence expectations. Thus, the level of fines within

the southern chalk streams may be a contributing factor in the recent reduction in numbers of salmon within these rivers.

Any excess of sediment (particularly in late winter-early spring) could further affect hatching potential and perhaps even prevent successful emergence of salmon.

Although a salmon may spawn successfully in certain types of gravel, it does not follow that the gravel will give good survival rates for the eggs and alevins. Studies have shown that when salmon spawn in gravel with a high percentage of fine material present, egg survival was below 10% compared with around 60% in good gravels.

Further studies were carried out on effectiveness of gravel cleaning. This process uses water jets to flush the fine sediment out of the gravel to allow good survival of the eggs. This management was found to be both effective at increasing egg survival, giving an 8-fold improvement in egg survival, and for the effectiveness to last at least two years.

Of course, the quantity and quality of spawning gravels are only two factors in the complex life history of the salmon. However, unlike problems that occur in the marine environment, mitigating measures can be taken to improve gravel condition and alleviate this aspect of the problems that beset these keystone species.

W. R. C. Beaumont

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT)

Our ever changing catchments and the sewage treatment problem.

Many of the rivers and streams in the West Country fail the standards set by the EU Water Framework Directive due at least in part to high phosphate levels entering the water. Modelling, mapping and monitoring of a river usually highlight three sources: farming, both point source from slurry and manure stores but also

diffuse, from across the land and riverbanks; septic tanks from small hamlets and individual properties and sewage treatment works (STWs). Apportionment studies from across the region show that the split between the three is locally variable, but in general around 50%, plus or minus 20%, is from agriculture and the balance from sewage treatment.

As you know Westcountry Rivers Trust has worked with farmers over the years to try to reduce agricultural loadings. This is having some impact where we can

secure infrastructure grants and improvements in land management. In some of our catchments we have seen reductions in nutrient loadings and increases in invertebrates and fish populations, but that still leaves the other side of the problem, namely sewage treatment.

Over the years our small rural sewage treatment works have been pushed outside their original design specifications as increasing population has led to increased housing development. This, coupled with changing weather patterns, misconnections, where clean roof and road water is getting into the sewerage system and a reduction in the permeability of our towns and gardens as people pave over their land, is reducing STWs capacity to treat waste. It is therefore not surprising that the effectiveness of individual STWs is called into question in terms of their contribution to phosphate loading within our rivers. This is in addition to other chemicals and pollutants that may make it through the treatment process.

At the Trust we have always tried to operate through evidence and consensus, which is why we are gathering more and more data on our
rivers in order to pinpoint the problems and provide sufficient data to
hold polluters to account. This is why we have also set up citizen
science programmes and invested in monitoring kit that can be deployed upstream and downstream of any problem area. These efforts have allowed us to highlight the problems as well as develop solutions. This does not always mean the best option is the end of pipe solution of a multi-million pound facility, although in places with significant development this is exactly what is required. The solution needs to be defined by the scale of the problem in relation to the rest of the river.

An alternative option that exists alongside formal treatment is the creation of constructed wetlands to take final discharges. This is currently being used successfully in the east of England. Where space permits this option has been shown to be effective, but correct design is essential. Another option is to work with the communities that use the STWs to prevent clean water getting into sewage systems, to hold back flood water and stop it overwhelming these systems and to reduce the amount of phosphate products used by householders. The final option involves reducing other loadings to bring the total loadings in an area under the legal limit. Whatever option is taken though, there needs to be an increased openness and honesty led by community monitoring, if we are to truly deal with these failures on our rivers.

Laurence Couldrick,

CEO, Westcountry Rivers Trust


The sea trout is often regarded as an enigmatic fish by anglers. It
is a very close cousin to the Atlantic Salmon and appears to have
a similar lifestyle. The sea trout is in reality a sea-run brown trout
that starts its life in freshwater before it smolts and descends to
the sea in the May of each year. However, in truth we know far
less about the sea trout than we do about salmon. No one really knows where these juvenile fish go to feed and grow. The accepted wisdom is that they chase shrimp, sand eels and capelin in waters around the coasts of the Celtic Sea and grow quickly before returning to the river of their birth in the years that follow. They are by nature a rather secretive fish, running the rivers in the dark hours and the best time to catch them on the fly is probably at night when they are up on the fin and at their most active.

Across Devon and Cornwall the sea trout is colloquially termed a “peal”. On the Taw the smaller fish that appear in large numbers in June, July and August are called “school peal” or “harvest peal” and the bigger fish in the 2 to 6 pound bracket are “peal” or “salmon-peal” in old parlance. Any fish above the 6 pound mark is termed a “pug”, a term coined by the old salmon estuary netsmen to describe these deep and powerfully built fish. If you are lucky or skilful enough catch a 6 pounder or anything bigger, then you will have done well because it’s a very good fish indeed. The Taw regularly produces big sea trout; the biggest in recent years caught by a salmon angler on the main stem was over 16 pounds – a monster. A big fresh August hen of over 14 pounds was also caught on the Mole in 2016, but every year double figure fish are taken and a good smattering of 7- 9 pounders regularly succumb to night anglers.

So how do you go about finding a taking sea trout on the Taw system? Well the first thing to realise is that the fish start to run the river far earlier than most people imagine. Some of the big fish start to appear in late April and continue to trickle into the system

thoughout May. These fish often run hard and can be found well up on the Upper Taw and Mole. I have seen sea liced peal caught at night at Wampford Bridge on the Mole in the second week of May. On the Taw night fishing operations normally commence in earnest at the beginning of June. The runs of fish really start to build and by the third week of June good numbers of peal will be present throughout the main stem and well above the junction. Night time temperatures will have warmed and stabilised and with a bit of luck, warm and gentle South Westerlies will blow, thus encouraging the fish to be in a taking mood. Rather like salmon, the truth is that fresh run fish will more readily take the fly than the

older residents. But fishing a fining river after a small summer spate will pep things up and often produce great results.

Sea trout will lie up in sheltered water and deep shaded pools during the day, but will become more active as the light values change at dusk. When the river is low, anglers fishing at night will often hear fish in the riffles as they move from pool to pool. Sometimes these new arrivals will settle in a pool and then become ready takers. At times you can intercept running fish at the heads of the pools but more of that later. It is generally accepted that in settled conditions as the darkness deepens and night draws in the peal will become more active. Some will decide to run upstream, but those that have stopped to rest will often move from their daytime hiding places to take up positions in the deeper glides and pool tails. They will often lie together as a loose shoal or you may find a smattering of individuals distributed through the pool, but when there is a bright moon peal will seek the shelter of the gloom provided by overhanging trees and bankside vegetation. When conditions are good you will often see or hear peal swirling and moving or jumping with a very distinctive “ker-plosh”. An encouraging sound that is always good for morale.

Let’s talk a little about tackle, flies and tactics. Given that the Taw is essentially fly only, you’ll need a nine and a half to ten foot fly rod rated AFTM 6 or 7. A good quality fly reel with a properly working drag and floating line to match. A good reservoir or still water trout set up will suffice admirably.

Depending on your level of expertise or approach you may want to pack a couple of medium or fast sink versi-tips or poly-leaders if you should wish to fish deep in the pots later in the night. Use10lb BS leaders of 9 to 10 feet in length – anything lighter and you are asking for trouble. Peal at night aren’t generally line shy. You should aim to travel light, there is no need to festoon yourself with vests, pockets and gismos. Wear chest waders if you can because they will allow you to wade deep and manoeuvre in the pool when required. Wear a warm jacket with big pockets into which you can deposit licence, fly boxes, leader material, nylon clippers, spare torch et al. Take a net – a small Gye net or other suitable alternative is a must. A hat with a peak or wide brim helps and a modern LED powered head torch is essential; make sure it has a red-light function. By turning away from the river, you can use the red light to change flies and undo the inevitable tangles and most importantly the red light won’t spook the fish and ruin your night vision. Never, ever, shine a white light on a pool at night – you will kill the fishing.

Many anglers are happy to stick with the more traditional fly patterns such as Silver Invicta or Butcher and so on, but these days many anglers also fish modern flies that are bigger by comparison

and of substantially different appearance. I have real confidence fishing slimly tied Black and Silver Snakes, Waddingtons or tubes of anything between an inch and two inches in length on the point. There are those who say that fishing a dropper increases the chances of tangling and they are probably right. However, there are a lot of anglers who do fish a dropper because it works for them. My fishing friends and I use black and silver stoat’s tail and hair wing butcher variants, tied on size 6 or 8 low water salmon singles on the dropper and we catch a substantial proportion of our fish on them.

Let us assume you have secured your beat for the night. It is late June, the evening is settled, warm and there is good cloud cover. Having checked the Bye Laws the first thing to do is arrive early when it is still light, stow your kit in a safe place and conduct a recce. Stay well back from the river and Identify the pools, pool tails and glides that might hold fish. Also check those hazards that might affect your casting and those areas where a switch or roll cast might be useful. Take note of the access points and routes because the river will become a different place when darkness falls. As the dusk deepens and the bats appear you might wish to start by having a cast or two in the riffles at the heads of the pools. This is often the place to intercept running fish and there is always a chance of encountering a resident salmon in the oxygenated water. You will find that your eyes will adjust to the gloom and when the dusk deepens and all becomes a darker uniform grey, switch your fishing effort to the glides and pool tails. Make your way gently into the water and cast downstream at a forty five degree angle under the far bank, put in an appropriate mend and work your flies back across the river with a gentle series of pulls or a slow figure of eight retrieve. Fish your cast out, take a long pace and cast gain. Remember, you are searching for that taking fish and always fish right down to the very tail of a pool. Peal will often lie in amazingly shallow water at night.

In the wee small hours you may feel the river has gone dead. The peal  may have stopped showing and gone down and all is quiet. This is the
time to change tactics. Put on a quick sinking poly leader and short tippet; team it with a big fly and start searching the deeper parts of the
pools. Fish the fly with a slow retrieve and concentrate on getting the fly right down. This method often delivers surprising results. However, as the eastern sky starts to lighten it will be time to switch back to the floater and concentrate on the glides and pool tails before dawn heralds the end of your fishing.

A peal will take your fly in a variety of ways. Sometimes you will feel a fish pluck at your fly, but not take. Take a step back and cast to the same place again, a fresh fish will more than likely have another go. Sometimes the pulls are savage, sometimes the fly just stops dead and sometimes the fly feels as if it has gone peculiarly light in the water. No matter, the response should be the same.

Don’t strike per say, but rather lift the rod firmly and pull down on the line in your other hand. Tighten into the fish and hopefully the fireworks will begin. The wonderfully exciting thing about night-time peal fishing is that you never know what is coming next. It could be a feisty school peal, but equally it could be an eight pounder fresh from the tide. On feeling the hook there’s a good chance that the fish will immediately take to the air and then run and then jump again. Fights can be spectacular and heart-stopping – a big peal will change direction in an inkling, so be warned – but weather the initial storm and things will calm down. Sooner or later you will be able to draw your prize into the net and with beating heart and shaking hands saviour one of angling’s great triumphs and admire one of our most enigmatic game fish – before doing it all again.

Oh and by the way, a word of warning. Once you try night- time peal angling it can become seriously addictive.

Ian Blewett

RTFA Committee Member

River Taw Fisheries Association Committee

Chairman Secretary Treasurer

Lower Taw Upper Taw

River Mole

Alex Gibson George Marsh Richard Nickell

Simon Hillcox
Mark Maitland-Jones

Simon Phillips John Smith Peter Tyjas

Andy Gray John Macro Chris Taylor

Associate Members’ Representative Ian Blewett*
IT Adviser Bryan Martin* Newsletter Editor Judith Kauntze* Torridge Representative Paul Ashworth*

* Non-voting Members


Alex Gibson asked me to contribute this article to your Newsletter because of concerns about whether RTFA is up to speed constitutionally. Nevertheless it is with some temerity that I write as a very new (2018) Associate Member of RTFA. This article reflects my experience gained over 14 years serving the 20 individual river

associations in the South West and as a Committee Member on the Exe, Fowey and Teign Associations. The views expressed are mine alone.

In common with most of the river associations in the South West, RTFA started life as a Riparian and Fishery Owners’ Association reflecting the direct ownership interests of its leading players. This is apparent in the membership arrangements with two different levels – Full for riparian and fishery owners and Associate for everyone else – as a new rod holder on the Taw I have joined as an Associate Member which means I pay less than for my membership of three other rivers! Does any of this matter?

When I first joined the Exe Association, RETA, its constitution was similar to the Taw’s. It had relatively few members and had been run by the same small group for many years. It changed its constitution to allow anyone with an interest in the river and its fishing to be a full member by the simple addition of the word ‘and anglers’ in its constitution which now includes To represent the interests of riparian owners and anglers of the River Exe and its tributaries. The Committee includes representatives from all parts of the river. There are now 250 individual members each paying £30 pa, many by Standing Order, plus a few corporate members paying varying amounts. The benefits of the changed constitution include:

  1. Better representation of all anglers on the river and reflection of the socio-economic benefits of angling on the river – removal of the old ‘us and them’;
  2. Better basis of influence on the establishment (Defra, Environment Agency, Exmoor National Park, SWW, Angling Trust, IFCA’s, etc);
  3. Better income from a wider base;
  4. Easier fundraising for specific projects, especially when applying for

    public funds;

  5. A bigger pool of potential Committee Members;
  6. More potential volunteers who feel fully involved – now reflected in

    work on Riverfly, juvenile fish surveys, habitat and gravel improvement,

    and cormorant and goosander monitoring and control;

  7. Easier communication with the bulk of the Exe angling community.

This is not to suggest that the RTFA is not a very successful

association – its work on barrier removal and other river improvement schemes, IFCA netting byelaws, siltation and sewage treatment is testament to its success which rivals that of most associations. Indeed RETA is only now following the Taw’s lead on removing barriers to migration. However there is an increasing threat which suggests it’s time for a change – the threat to game angling, especially for salmon and sea trout, posed by the EA’s focus on regulating fishing while doing little to address the real threats to rivers, their fish and hence our fishing.

To be a credible force when dealing with this and all the other threats and to influence the debate it is important to have a strong democratic base – there are still those in power who see us as an anachronistic irrelevant group of rich owners even though our track record of caring for our rivers is in direct contrast to theirs. The continuing reduction in the EA’s ability to fulfil its statutory fisheries duties is increasing the need for us to manage our own rivers for the benefit of all anglers, not just fishery owners. Equally the interests of owners (and I am one on the Exe) are best served by the most effective river associations.

As I said in the opening I wrote this with some temerity and it is with the same temerity that I ask the question – is RTFA constitutionally fit for the future?

Roger Furniss

Former Secretary, South West Rivers Association

End of Season Gathering

The newly refurbished Rising Sun Inn at Umberleigh will be hosting an evening to mark the end of the season on Sunday, 30th September. More details to follow on the website.

To book a table and for further details, please contact

Charles O’Shea on 01769 560447

River Taw Byelaws


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




Salmon bag limits

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

2 fish in any 24 hour period 3 fish in any 7 day period 10 fish in a season

No rod caught salmon to be sold or offered for sale

Sea Trout bag limits 5 fish in any 24 hour period 15 fish in any 7 day period

Brown Trout

40 fish in a season Size limit 25cms

No rod caught sea trout to be sold or offered for sale Size limit 20cms

We strongly recommend

that you practice catch and release wherever you can and release all sea trout under 1lb and above 4lbs

Editor: Judith Kauntze. Email: [email protected]


posted in: Article, Game Fishing, Sidebar | 0

The River Taw Fisheries Association held their Annual General Meeting at High Bullen Hotel on Friday March 23rd. Chairman Alex Gibson reported on the 2017 season when approximately 286 salmon were landed and 214 sea trout. The statistic that immediately raised concern was the dramatic drop in sea trout numbers. It is to be hoped that this is one of nature’s cyclical fluctuations and not something more sinister. The good news was a healthy number of brown trout reported by anglers from the Taw catchment.

RTFA – Chairman Alex Gibson

High Impact Enforcement Officer Paul Carter gave an update on the latest news regarding netting bye laws and proposed regulations to safeguard future salmon stocks. He emphasized the importance of anglers reporting any potential pollution’s or illegal fishing via the Environment Agency’s hotline: – 0800 807060.

Anglers are encouraged to respond to the latest consultation regarding the proposals. Via the following link:-


There was some encouraging news in that redd counts on the Upper Taw had been encouraging compared to recent seasons. South Molton & District Angling Club gave valuable help to carry out observation on the River Bray under guidance from Paul Carter and plan to carry out an annual redd count from now on.

Bill Beaumont, Senior Fisheries Scientist, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, gave an enlightening talk entitled;
“Salmon and Silt-A Recipe for Disaster”. Whilst much of the data presented was from the River Frome in Dorset it had a great deal of relevance to our own local rivers. There is an acknowledgement that marine survival is a major factor that we have little control over. For this reason the focus needs to be on ensuring the salmon and sea trout have a healthy habitat in which to breed. Farming practices are a key concern with silt run off, insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers all ingredients that can cause significant damage to  the river environment. Education is a major factor in this area with retaining what is put on the land beneficial economically. What is the point in spending thousands of pounds on treatments to see it all wash off into the river?

There are numerous ways that farming practice can be modified to protect the waterways. Including catch crops to bind the soil and keep it in place, ploughing across slopes and fencing to reduce cattle access to the river.

The basic message is that we need to clean up our act. Find the problems, identify the causes and discover the solutions. To do this we need political will power to provide finance. Education combined with financial reward for good practice. This has to be backed up by enforcement ensuring that there is a significant cost to breaking the rules.

Bill Beaumont’s in depth presentation highlighted many issues that can impact upon salmon and sea trout. Mapping the migration of adult salmon and sea trout and parr and smolts is vital in understanding where losses are highest. With this knowledge targeted effort can bring success stemming the decline in these iconic migratory fish.

A few issues highlighted included; Marine – By catches of smolts, Over-fishing of food fish, Competition for food from herrings etc, Marine temperature change. Freshwater – Variable spawning success, Predation from birds, fish, mink and otters, Water abstraction, less flushing of gravels, Land-use (as previously mentioned),

http://www.gwct.org.uk /fishing/research/

Chairman Alex Gibson highlighted widespread concern amongst members regarding the potential breaches of compliance at many of the areas sewage treatment works. With increasing housing development within the region there is undoubtedly a need for significant investment to ensure that wastewater is adequately treated. Once again if any potential pollution’s are observed then the E-A hotline 0800 807060 should be used.

Anglers are at the forefront of conservation on rivers and are in a position to spot indications of issues unlikely to be detected by general members of the public. Guests at the meeting included members of the River Torridge Fishery Association who work hand in hand with the Taw fishers on many issues common to both rivers that share the same estuary mouth. An area of grave concern is the Northam Landfill site where coastal erosion is threatening to release many tons of potentially toxic material into the lower estuary

The AGM was closely followed by the associations annual auction that is a significant fund raising event in the calendar. All monies received help fund vital work on the river system including surveys and improvement work by the West Country Rivers Trust.

The evenings events and coming season are always debated in great depth during the delicious meal that follows.