END OF SEASON UPDATE
There was a late flourish in salmon fisher’s fortunes as the 2023 season ended. Heavy rain during mid- September brought the regions rivers up and as the season faded to its conclusion on the last day of September levels dropped along with the colour to provide near perfect conditions. On the Taw system several salmon were tempted. Paul Carter caught a 12lb salmon from the Middle Taw, Don Hearn and Adi Podesta tempted salmon estimated at 15lb from the Lower Taw and Simon Hillcox tempted a 7lb salmon on the seasons last day.
Members of the River Torridge Fishery Association held their annual egg box dinner at the Half Moon Inn at Sheepwash last Saturday. There was talk over dinner about a fine 15lb salmon caught from the middle Torridge by Brian Lovering a 7lb salmon caught by Bernard Crick and of James Crawford tempting a fresh run silver bar of 7lb.
Little Warham Fishery
Sometimes the grass really is greener at home!
THE ANNUAL TORRIDGE FISHERY ASSOCIATION DINNER
On a hot April day in 1964 fourteen year old Michael Bull went to stay at the Half Moon Inn at Sheepwash. Conditions were not ideal but a young Charles Inniss took young Michael to the river and used his fishing experience and intuition to give Michael the best chance of a fish.
Michael cast his spinner into a deep pool and as the metal lure touched down upon the water a beautiful silver salmon seized it. Later that evening the splendid fish lay upon the cool slate slab to be admired by the fisher folk staying at the hotel.
Close to sixty years on Michael and Charles share vivid memories of that glorious spring day at the Torridge Fisheries Annual Egg Box dinner. The Annual Dinner brings members from far and wide to celebrate the seasons, share stories and raise valuable funds towards the hatchery that members hope will stem the dramatic decline in salmon numbers.
It is to be hoped that the hatchery will be up and running later this Autumn after lengthy consultation with the Environment Agency.
Michael told me it took a further three years to catch his next salmon but he was of course hooked for life and has been revisiting the Torridge and the Half Moon ever since lending support to the Association and staying at this delightful old fishing Inn.
Attending the annual dinner with Pauline each year gives a deep appreciation of the bond formed beside the water and how the quest for those iconic migrants is about so much more than rod and line.
That deep connection with the river its environment and the fish within illustrate all that is good about angling. The well-respected carp angler Jim Gibbinson entitled his book on fishing; “ A Glorious Waste Of Time”. I’m sure those dining at the Half Moon would drink a toast to that!
As we left I commented to Adam behind the bar that it had not been the best of Seasons. He replied cheerily that “next season will hopefully be better”.
The eternal optimism of the angler will ensure that next March as the wild daffodils bloom flies will be cast in hope of silver.
I will leave it there safe in the knowledge that whilst there are those who care deeply for the river and its fish there is hope.
RIVER TAW FISHERIES & CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION AGM
After a day of relentless heavy rain, we drove over the River Taw at Newbridge to witness a torrent of dirty brown flood water racing under the bridge and starting to spill over the flood plain. This was certainly an unusual sight for the last day in March and I thought about its impact on the fish. Any kelt’s’ would certainly be swept out of the system. The downstream smolt migration should now be underway and this significant flush of water will help these juvenile salmon to evade the flocks of cormorants that prey so heavily on them each spring. The raging torrent should also flush away debris and give the river a spring clean. There is of course the worry of pollutants with storm overflows undoubtedly discharging, farm slurry leaking and tons of soil washed from fields.
We arrived at Highbullen for the RTFCA and it was good to see familiar faces at this annual gathering. Chairman Andy Gray gave a warm welcome to the membership many of whom had travelled a good distance to attend. After a couple of crisis hit seasons of COVID and drought it was hoped that 2023 would bring better fortunes. The flooded river presently prevailing would hopefully bring a spring run as water levels drop. The large numbers of kelt caught at the start of the season was very encouraging indicating that good numbers of fish had spawned.
The main focus on river habitat work had been to concentrate on gravel washing but the 2022 drought had severely impacted upon this work.
The 2022 season had seen 53 salmon caught and 83 sea trout.
There was extensive debate surrounding the successful legal proceedings by Fish legal regarding the pollution on the River Mole in 2019.
The monies received from this court case will be invested in the future of the River Taw catchment with funds supporting the valuable work of the Westcountry Rivers Trust. The importance of joining Fish legal was highlighted as without their support and expertise the polluters would have escaped justice.
A significant number of migratory shad were witnessed in the Taw during the late Spring of 2022. It is thought that this could be a direct result of the removal of weirs project during the past decade. The presence of these rare fish spawning in the Taw can bring welcome funding to the river for further habitat improvement.
Adrian Dowding of the Westcountry Rivers Trust gave a short talk on the importance of gravel washing works on potential spawning areas. This is part of the SHIP ( Spawning Habitat Improvement Project). Gravel washing removes silt and breaks up compacted gravels enabling successful spawning.
There was passionate debate regarding the frequent pollution of rivers from agriculture and discharge from an antiquated and inadequate sewage treatment infrastructure. An ever expanding population has resulted in an overload with many sewage works working way beyond their design capacity.
Intensive farming is undoubtedly having a negative impact and considerable efforts are being made to work with farmers to control run off and ensure secure storage of effluent and slurry.
There has been a very high take up of Citizen Science Investigation monitoring across the Westcountry. This can provide the EA with valuable data. The North Devon Catchment Partnership brings a collective alliance with various interested parties working together for the good of the river.
The RTFCA believe that working together in common causes is the best way to achieve results regarding water quality, and habitat with the opportunity to pool resources where appropriate.
Harry Chance gave a talk on his work with the Environment Agency as an Agricultural Regulatory Inspection Officer on the Torridge catchment. His work funded by DEFRA ( Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) involves regular farm inspections. The focus is on offering advice and support to farmers to prevent pollution and habitat damage. Regulation is extremely complex and the legal system frustratingly slow. Harry explained the rigorous expectations for farming with mandatory soil testing and adequate controls to prevent pollution incidents. The importance of reporting any suspected pollution or breaches of regulations was emphasised with reports and data essential in bringing potential prosecutions and increased funding.
EA Hotline 0800 80 70 60
When reporting obtain an incident number, take photos, give a grid reference or what 3 word location.
Reports can be made anonymously.
Mr Phil Metcalf and Sophia Craddock gave an informative talk on the Devon Rivers Improvement Project ( DRIP) . This project started on the River Umber that flows through the valley at Combe Martin. The project focusses on flood risk awareness and flood risk. The installation of sensors that measure water depth, Moisture, rain, water quality, including turbidity, nitrates, conductivity, pH, temperature and ammoniums. These provide valuable data that is linked to satellites to give real time data collection.
This project is now being extended to the Little Dart a tributary of the Taw.
The initiative plans to use natural based solutions to reduce flooding and run off. These potential solutions involve woodland planting, cross slope planting, floodplain planting, hedgerow banks, log dams, gulley stuffing, buffer ditches, containment ponds and many other innovative trials.
Floodplain connection is considered a key factor in righting the mismanagement of land over recent decades.
As I attend multiple talks I realise how we need to rethink how we manage the land and our watercourses to enable nature to heal the damage that has been inflicted.
On conclusion of the formal meeting and talks many members remained at the venue to enjoy a delicious meal. If our table was anything to go by many topics were discussed with fishing past and present undoubtedly providing a vast wealth of subject matter. It is always good to make new friends and savour reminiscences of lifetimes spent beside many waters.
Anyone interested in North Devon’s rich angling history might enjoy my book published in 2016. See link below.
The River Torridge Fishery Association
President: Lord Clinton
Chairman: Paul Ashworth Secretary: Charles Inniss
Beeches Sheepwash Beaworthy Devon EX21 5NW
e-mail: [email protected]
NEWSREEL: SPRING 2023
Subscriptions for 2023 are now due. If you have not already paid please forward your cheque for £20 to the Secretary at the above address making cheques payable to The River Torridge Fishery Association.
If you prefer to pay by BACS:
account name: Torridge Owners Association: a/c no 00827770: sort code 51 70 16
Our AGM: 24th March: It was an excellent meeting with over 30 attending and The Half Moon laid on the usual superb buffet at the conclusion of the business. Izzy Moser gave an interesting and informative presentation on the work of the Devon Wildlife Trust. This led to a discussion on the pros and cons of Beavers which before long, whether we like it or not, will become established in the headwaters of our catchment.
Election of Officers: the agm re-elected the officers and committee “en bloc”.
Chairman: Paul Ashworth, Vice-Chairman Steve Phelps, Sec/Treas Charles Inniss, T. Harper,
S. McClaren, D. Betts, D. Williams, P. Coles, K. Dunn, J. Graham. T. Birkbeck
Our President, Lord Clinton, is an honorary member of the committee.
Hatchery Update: there was a long discussion at the agm regarding the future of our hatchery. All those present were determined that if at all possible the hatchery project should be continue. The Chairman pointed out that it was very time consuming and more volunteers were needed. The EA would only give the go-ahead if a detailed risk-assessment was drawn up and approved by them. It was agreed a small sub-committee prepare a detailed draft risk-assessment and to co-ordinate with the River Axe, which is now operating its hatchery again. Members offered their support to be part of the sub-committee and to undertake any structural work needed at the fish pass.
A proposal for 100% salmon catch and release: the EA has deferred this proposal for twelve months. If implemented for the 2024 season mandatory release will only apply to salmon not sea trout. With stocks in decline your committee strongly recommends that all fish are released without where possible removing them from the river.
Our North Devon Fishery Protection Officer: for personal reasons Callum Underhill has been transferred to work nearer his family home in the south-east. Callum has been very supportive particularly with regard to the hatchery. The EA are currently interviewing for a replacement.
The season so far: after a very dry February the river was quite low for the first week. A few kelts were caught from the middle river and two fresh fish were lost below Beam Weir. For the last three weeks the river has been in spate and unfishable. Patience is a virtue: when the river settles let’s hope there will be some fresh spring salmon to be enticed to our flies.
The Egg Box Dinner: Saturday 30th September at The Half Moon Inn. Book early with the Half Moon to avoid disappointment. Tel: 01409231376. e-mail: [email protected]
EA Update from Callum Underhill
First off, and most important is a reminder to please report any suspicious or concerning activity to us at the EA or local police, whichever is relevant for the offence that may be taking place. We have a saying that if it isn’t reported, it didn’t happen – because if we don’t know about it then we are obviously unaware it has occurred and thus cannot do anything about it. If you believe you have seen something you may be concerned about in terms of illegal fishing, please call us on 0800 80 70 60. This number is also helpfully printed on your rod licences.
We have a good working relationship with our local Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority. As many of you will know, much of the work of protecting salmonids occurs around estuaries and tidal waters, this often overlaps with the work of IFCAs in their protection of marine species. For this reason, we are both cross warranted in Devon. We have powers under marine fisheries legislation and IFCA officers have powers to enforce salmonid legislation. After sharing intelligence between us and IFCA, I was able to locate two individuals netting the estuary illegally towards the end of last year. I reported them for the offences, and I seized the net as evidence. IFCA have now issued both with sizeable fines for the offences – a good deterrent and a strong message to those who may wish to do the same.
As many of you know, illegal fishing is not the only threat to fish in Devon. My colleagues in other departments are working hard to address other contributory factors to salmon declines, including habitat degradation, water quality and barriers to migration. Some factors are beyond our control, such as survival at sea, but we will do the best we can with our (very) limited resources.
Unfortunately, we had a disappointing outcome on the previous River Mole pollution case, which as you know caused much damage to already sensitive fish populations. We are at the mercy of the courts when it comes to sentencing and some days are better than others. On a positive note, we are now lucky to have some specialised colleagues in the area who will be looking at improving water quality by looking at local businesses and ensuring they are meeting legal requirements. These officers will compliment our other Environment Officers Albert and Andrew.
Many anglers are unaware that we at the EA hold much of the rights to the River Lyn around Watersmeet – a challenging yet rewarding water! We operate mandatory catch and release on our fishery and are able to bring in relevant restrictions when necessary to protect the fish in the river. I am in the process of modernising our fishery, with the potential for digital tickets and well as paper for example. Please feel free to try the Lyn if you haven’t before, or even visit for just a walk and support the local rural businesses up there.
Finally, thank you to RTFCA for being so engaging. All of the members I have met have been friendly and welcoming and the Taw is one of the areas in the patch I am always happy to visit.
I hope to see many more of you over the coming seasons.
After hearing of a fresh run springer of 11lb caught by Tony Watkins on the Weirmarsh and Brightly fisheries on the River Taw I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with this prime stretch of water above Umberleigh.
The drive to the fishery culminating in a pleasing country lane lined with spring flowers brought back happy and poignant memories of time spent with the late Ron Warwick whose bungalow overlooked the Taw valley and the river that he loved. Visits to many riverside beats and fisherman’s paths rekindle many memories of those we have known through angling and time at the waters edge. It would be impossible for me to fish the Weirmarsh and Brightly Beats without remembering Ivan Huxtable who looked after the fishing and the anglers for many years. Whilst Ivan himself was not an angler he was always very supportive of the angling community and the river. He also raised a huge amount of money for local charity’s including the North Devon Hospice with his regular sponsored walks over Exmoor.
I met with fishery manager Chris Steer for a quick and invaluable refresher on the beats and the likely holding lies enabling me to prioritise my efforts when it came to searching the water.
The fishing is split into three beats; Upper, Middle and Lower with the day rotating between beats with changeover at 1.00pm.
I was fishing the Upper and Middle beats both of which boast some stunning Fly water with good holding runs and pools. As Chris explained the likely holding lies, pools and crossing places I struggled to retain much of this valuable information though when I returned to the water with my rod a short time later much of the briefing had undoubtedly sunk in. As I fished methodically downriver I recalled much of Chris’s wisdom in relation to likely taking spots.
Knowledge of these taking spots are invaluable on any salmon fishery and learning where they are can require many decades of fishing. Fortunately, if anglers share their knowledge these hot spots can be passed down through the generations enabling anglers to have a better chance of hooking into that silver prize.
These taking spots do of course change over the years and also change in relation to the river’s height and flow. As salmon populations dwindle this knowledge built up over the generations becomes ever more vital. Whilst the river is constantly changing to a degree some features that create the perfect resting place for salmon remain. Yet learning about catching salmon becomes increasingly difficult as the experience becomes ever rarer.
I took my rod to the top beat at around 10:00am and began swinging a trusty black and yellow pattern across the first run below the railway bridge. I fished down through each pool and run methodically full of anticipation tempered with a degree of realism in that my prize whilst undoubtedly present is scarce.
As spring flowers bloom beside the riverside path, I cannot avoid contemplating the changing times. Many have walked these paths and some of the pools reflect their names and events that have occurred. They may have sat upon the angler’s bench during times of war and trauma. They would perhaps have been reassured by the perpetually flowing water and the changing seasons. If they could perhaps through some miracle revisit they would be saddened and troubled by the demise of the salmon and sea trout along with dwindling numbers of elvers.
The demise of our migratory fish are undoubtedly an indication of the rivers failing health. This should be of concern to all as water is as vital to life as the air we breathe.
Myself and many others marvel at migrations undertaken by swallows, martins, swifts, cuckoos and chiff-chaffs. The sight of that first swallow always brings a sense of joy yet surely the silver salmon is equally important as an indication that all is as it should be?
Imagine the dismay if we could no longer glimpse the swallow as its scythes through the warm fragrant summer air. Surely we should be equally dismayed if salmon no longer reach our rivers?
Whilst I continually try to raise the many issues that blight our rivers it is perhaps wise to appreciate the wonders that we still have. The river on this Spring day certainly appeared in superb health with clear water and plenty of fry visible in the margins. There were also what I assume were a few olives flitting above the water though no signs of rising trout.
The warm sun beat down upon lush green fields and lambs played friskily as I waded in the cool spring river. It is pure joy to be immersed in this idyllic rural landscape and fishing somehow connects you and slows things down enabling an appreciation that is not possible during a fleeting visit or walk.
Over the years I have observed wildlife at close quarters for as an angler you merge slowly into the scene. If you observe the patience of the heron as it fishes you will notice its slow and deliberate movement. As anglers we should perhaps mimic this unhurried patient approach for there are undoubtedly far more fish in the river than we perceive.
The late great nature writer BB has this quote at the start of his many books; –
“The Wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades, these I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts.”
I recently received a delightful email from Dr M George who has fished the Taw for many years. Dr George expressed appreciation of the river and the wonderful environment. He had fished the river on the same day fishing further up the system. Over the years Mike has landed many salmon and sea trout during his weekly visits that are often short sessions focussing on the prime taking spots. He gave a valuable piece of advice in that he always holds the rod very high as salmon take “On the dangle” and hook themselves against the loop in the line. No loop a tug but no fish ! I reflected upon this as I read the email for during my day on the river I had received a strong tug as I lifted the fly to recast. Perhaps if I had just slowed down and given a little slack a silver salmon would have pulsed at the end of my line? As we fish we learn and modify our stance those little amendments can eventually make us better anglers. Many thanks to Dr M George for sending the beautiful images (Below) from the River Taw.
Those who value the River Taw should consider joining the River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association.
If lockdown has taught us anything it is to savour each moment. As I searched the river for that elusive springer I was content to just be there flicking the fly across the river letting it swing over the known lies as the birdsong filled the air and spring flowers added a splash of colour to the banks.
March 1st is the first day of the salmon season on North Devon Rivers and both the Taw and Torridge are looking good running high and clear.
I took my rod the bottom of the Taw at midday and had a few casts to greet the new season. This was on the Barnstaple Club Water and I suspect any fish that have moved in will have pushed up river with plenty of water and big tides. It was good to wade out into the cool water once again and flex the rod. I can remember the river on opening day when I started fishing for salmon back in the late seventies when club members would have been out in numbers hoping for that first fish off the season. Sadly the number of anglers have dwindled along with the spring salmon. Another major factor is the mandatory catch and release that is now enforced along with a spinning being discouraged despite being legal for the first month of the season.
I am always fascinated at the amount of debris brought down by the winter spates. It is hard to imagine the ferocity of the waters that carried this so high onto the bank. It is also fascinating to see how the river changes each year as nature moulds its path to the sea.
Recent heavy rainfall has resulted in perfect conditions leading into the last month of the salmon fishing season. Paul Carter kindly allowed me to use this stunning image of the River Torridge at Beam Weir.
I look forward to reporting on catches from both the Taw and Torridge. Day Tickets are available for the Taw at Weir Marsh and Brightly via Chris Steer on 07761285169. Day Tickets for the Torridge can be obtained from the Half Moon Inn at Sheepash or at Little Warham Fishery. The West Country Passport Scheme also gives access to many excellent beats.
An early start on the middle Torridge this morning as the river starts to drop and the colour starts to clear there should be a silver tourist somewhere ready to take a fly? The mournful cries of young buzzards and the croak of a raven hangs in the warm air as I walk to the river.
The rivers running high and full of hope as I drift my flies across time proven lies. I start with bright and bold hues of orange, yellow and gold. Then I go subtle with a silver stoats tail.
A kingfisher flashes past, a squirrel darts from branch to branch, wagtails flit to and fro. In the shallows pinhead fry dart as I wade the shallows. Vivid blue damsels alight upon the riverside grass. Bees gather upon the pink flowers of the invasive Himalayan balsam. Hazlenuts, blackberries and seed-heads tell of the passing season. The river is topped up and flowing well with more rain in the forecast it could be a good end to the season on both Taw and Torridge. Big tides at present and rough seas all bodes well for the September so often the salmon fishers best.
Todays blank trip is all to common but ever the optimist. Its good be at the waters edge as always.