A Silver Bar of good news from Little Warham

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A bar of silver at Little Warham Fishery for Anthony. There is debate as to salmon or sea trout but either way its great to sea a glimmer of silver hope from a beautiful beat on the River Torridge.

Below is guidance on salmon and sea trout identification from the late great Hugh Falkus. Every fish is different of course and identification is not always clear cut. I remember many years ago catching a silver bar from the Lower Taw, at the time I thought it was a salmon but looking at the photo a few years later I realised that it was a fine double figure sea trout of 10lb 4oz, my personal best.



Many thanks to Richard Wilson for sharing his thoughts on salmon decline with North Devon Angling News. Check out Fish rise on Substack for more of Richards writing. This months article is very apt considering the dramatic decline we are seeing on West Country Salmon populations.

Atlantic Salmon: The Brink of Extinction?

A Red List Endangered Species.

River Ghost

Salmon are in trouble. Ask anyone involved and they’ll tell you how bad it is and who’s to blame (it’s always someone else).

It’s so bad that the Atlantic Salmon is now officially an IUCN Red List Endangered Species in the UK. In Ireland, the population has collapsed by 80% in 20 years. Other places and other salmon species are not far behind, and the word extinction really has entered the debate.

We can see this decline by watching the way the money flows. Just about everywhere the value is slowly ebbing out of salmon fishing, almost no matter how or where we do it, and from mega-trawler to rod & line.

Sure, we can remove dams and nets, replant catchments and clean up pollution to help mitigate the decline, but they’re not enough.

This crisis is universal, which is of note, because not everywhere has nets or fish farms or pollution or management corruption. Indeed, some have none of the above, yet their salmon are in trouble.

One of Scotland’s most exclusive rivers, the Helmsdale, used to be a place where fishing was accessed via dead men’s shoes. Royalty graced its banks and the management was so discrete as to be almost uncontactable. A rod on the Helmsdale was a mark of status. Now the Helmsdale has gaps to fill and is promoting itself in upmarket magazines. It has no pollution and no fish farms to blame. Something else is going wrong.

What salmon everywhere have in common is rising water temperatures. This is happening both at sea and in rivers. High temps impact badly on salmon at every stage of their lifecycle, from squeezed and collapsing ocean food chains to overheated redds and undernourished smolts failing to make the journey back to sea. The salmon lifecycle makes them especially vulnerable to warming water.

This is real and it’s happening everywhere. Check out the Missing Salmon Alliance for a thorough breakdown of these combined threats. Their rallying call is Cold, Clean Water – which is as succinct a summary of the salmon’s plight as you can find anywhere.

And it’s not just salmon: Entire food chains are wobbling. In recent years 10 billion snow crabs have gone missing from Alaskan waters and the most plausible explanation is starvation in warming seas. A few years ago 100m Alaskan cod went AWOL for the same reason: Warmth increases fish and crustacean metabolic rates, so they have to eat more just to maintain body weight. At the same time the warm water suppresses growth in their food supply. So they need more, get less and starve. It’s becoming a regular feature of ocean life.

Worse, the increase in metabolic rate may also increase salmon’s need for oxygen beyond the ability of their gills to fully deliver. If so, that too would inhibit growth and reproduction.

To understand why, we need to do some time travelling because today’s benign weather wasn’t always a given. Our ancestors had a much tougher time than us.

About 17,000 years ago the world was in the depths of the last Ice Age. We humans scraped a marginal existence as hunter-gatherers. Life was freezing and the world was a whopping 5c colder than nowadays.

A graph showing the growth of ice age ends Description automatically generated
Global Temperatures from mid-Ice Age. With thanks to Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M University.

We hit our stride about 10k years ago when the climate warmed and delivered a sweet spot that stuck. We could sow crops, expect to harvest them and feed our expanding population. Great civilisations formed. We could also hunt and fish for nature’s seemingly boundless resources such as the herbivores that roamed the plains and the fish and whales in our seas. The post-glacial world was rich in opportunity.

This is the Holocene Era: The time when the Earth and its climate came good for humans. There were blips along the way: a few major volcanic eruptions that caused cooling and short-term global famines, for example. But since the end of the Ice Age, Planet Earth’s climate has been stable and very hospitable.

Then came the Industrial Revolution and the arrival of the fossil fuel era. We are about 250 years into it now – the red zone below.

The Carbon Era Temperature Spike (closer to 1.4c now): Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M

Current predictions are that temperatures will likely peak at about +2-3C, with growing confidence that it will be a lot closer to 2C than 3C. The hoped-for 1.5C target is surely a lost cause.

We have understood the basic science behind this since the mid-1800s. It’s not difficult – excess CO2 is pollution that traps heat in the atmosphere. We can measure it very accurately. We know the science is good and that what’s happening now is unfolding as scientists predicted it would (my first TV report saying the Holocene could unwind was nearly 30 years ago, and I was in Antarctica reporting established science, not breaking new ground). The scientists even got the speed of change about right, although as a layman I’m shocked by what we’re seeing now:

NASA animation of global temperature change since 1880:

We’re hitting temperatures not seen for 125,000 years and it’s going to get worse. When we finally stop pumping out CO2, we will revert to a long, slow cooling trajectory (business as usual). It will take thousands of years to get back to where we were just 250 years ago ( NASA ). That’s one heck of a hangover from our CO2 party that we’re giving to future generations.

It’s not all bad news (below). Climate scepticism is fading, clearing the way for better political engagement. The graphic below shows that only the 10% or so on the margin are still drinking neat Clorox. This group are mostly hard-core conspiracy theorists and have bucket lists of competing dire consequences they expect to suffer. You’d think climate doomsterism would be right up their victim-centric street, but I don’t think they will ever shift their position by much. I suppose they believe that one day they’ll be proved right and they won’t be the only ones dying of vaccine-preventable diseases or in G3/4/5 radio mast attacks.

The remaining 90% of us are increasingly concerned about climate change. The dial is shifting.

Tracking the decline of Climate Denial 2013-2023

So where does this leave the salmon?

The answer is worrying: We can do a great deal to adapt to and mitigate the impacts, but the bottom line is that we’re stuck in a pattern of decline that won’t end until we tackle the root problem. The Earth is getting too warm and it’s happening too fast for the fish to adapt.

Ask an Atlantic Salmon. If you can find one …

Fading Silver


It’s almost Mid-May and the evenings are long with dusk now lingering well past 9.00pm. I always seem to be caught out not fully appreciating the onset of Summer realizing all too soon that it’s getting towards the longest day and that those days will once again start to shorten. In the words of that Pink Floyd song;
Staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today
And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

I arrived at the fishing hut early evening pleased to be at the beat for only the second time this season. I was half expecting there to be another angler fishing but I had the fishing to myself. I had brought my salmon rod and a light trout rod just in case the trout were rising and could be tempted on a dry fly.
The river looked to be in fine fettle a perfect height and good clarity. I watched the river carefully for signs of life but no fish moved.
I left the trout rod in the hut and approached the water’s edge extended a line across the water and drifted a silver stoat’s tail across the river. I made my way carefully negotiating the slippery rocks coated in slimy algae. My casting could be better I thought, no sweet rhythm this evening.
After a few steps I was startled by a head appearing just a couple of feet from the rod tip. The large otter rolled again a further few yards down river. There are some who curse the otter for it predates upon the salmon and sea trout. I take a slightly different view for whilst I fear for the salmon I accept that otters have hunted this river for centuries. There was once an abundance of salmon in this beautiful river more than enough for angler and otter.
I feel sure that if I had stood on this river bank just thirty years ago salmon and sea trout would be leaping from the water crashing back with loud splashes that would fuel the anticipation.

In the shadows sea trout would have leapt their heavy splashes rising the anglers anticipation.

This evening the ever flowing river heads to the estuary and the ocean beyond. During my two hours I drift my fly in fading hope. There are no glimpses of silver, the river banks are lush and green. The scent of wild garlic drifts in the warm evening air. But despite the natural beauty all around I cannot help but dwell upon the lack of salmon and sea trout. As a young angler I assumed the salmon and sea trout would always run the river or at least throughout my lifetime. Sadly I realize that this may not be so as the actions of mankind decimate the natural world and in particular the rivers those arteries of the land.
In recent months I have been involved in the screening of the film Riverwoods to audiences across North Devon. The film suggests solutions to the demise of salmon. After the film I give a presentation about salmon decline in the South West and beyond. I talk of the plight of salmon, their decline in my lifetime and suggest ways that we can all delay their route to extinction.
I ponder upon the salmon’s plight as I pack away my tackle. The angler, the otter and the salmon are all perhaps on borrowed time unless we act to bring our rivers back to life.
As I step from the River I again see the Otter heading back up river where Henry Williamsons fictional Tarka may well have swum. I read the tale recently a book that records a time of abundance full of cruelty but all within a more balanced natural world before a burgeoning population brought us to our present place in history.

Spot the otter – Right of the rivers centre.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but your older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

My next trip to the river will be to the higher reaches where the water still glistens running clear with vibrant beautiful crimson spotted brown trout in abundance.
Fishing is good for the soul and we really need to celebrate the wonderful nature that we still have around us. The fleeting glimpse of electric blue as a kingfisher flashes past. The swooping swift, the evocative call of the cuckoo, the cheerful chirp of the chiff chaff.
That great Countryside writer BB’s books include the rather poignant words.
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 wonder what BB would make of today’s world?


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After a slow start to the 2024 salmon season a few fish are starting to show as the river fines down and temperatures rise. Roger Bickley caught a 9lb fresh run springer from the middle Taw and

Seth Tuson caught a beautiful 13lb springer from the River Torridge.


“After an awful start to the season with river heights rarely dropping below 1m on the gauge, I’ve finally managed to get out salmon fishing a few times recently. After what feels like endless blanks over the last couple of years, I’m over the moon to have caught this 13lb salmon on a single handed rod, full floating line and small shrimp style fly. It feels like a great privilege to catch a fish like this on the Torridge as they become rarer and I’m so happy that all the time I’ve put in has been worth it.”

Stuart Gardener was a founding member of the South West Rivers Association in the 1960’s and created an annual award to be presented to someone who has done exceptional work for fishing organisations in the South west.

This encompasses the twenty two South West River Associations.

This year the award was presented to Stephen Phelps at the Associations AGM at the Arundell Arms the beating heart of West Country Fishing. Stephen writes :-
“I was presented with it, I’ll hold it for a year.
At yesterday’s SWRA AGM i was speechless, just mumbled a “thank you”.
Today I realise the enormity of it to me. I will, I’m sure not receive anything so special again.
Previous recipients include Charles Inniss, previous chairmen of the association, even Lord Clinton our President, until he passed away about a month ago.
Hope you don’t mind me sharing but I am overwhelmed chuffed.”

A pollution incident on the River Taw caused wide concern across the angling community. Fortunately there were no reports of fish deaths following the incident that affected several miles of the mid to Lower Taw. The Environment Agency carried out an investigation and will undoubtedly continue to monitor the situation.

Anglers and those at the water edge are encouraged to report any pollution concerns to the EA on the hotline number 0800 807060

At Last the salmon season is underway

After one of the wettest Springs in living memory the rivers have eventually dropped to a good level and the first salmon of the 2024 season have been caught. A superb fresh run springer estimated at 20lb was caught from a middle Taw beat at the start of the week and several others have been hooked and lost on both the Taw and Torridge. I visited the a middle Taw beat for a short early evening session and the river looked perfect.

The latest River levels can be found on the GOV UK website :- https://check-for-flooding.service.gov.uk/station/3106

The link is the Umberleigh Guage and anything below 0.75 is considered generally fishable. The river levels should remain good for at least a couple of weeks but with trees absorbing plenty of water we will be hoping for rain by mid may!

Dulverton Angling Association have secured fishing on new beat “Old Woman Beat” offer trout, grayling and the chance of salmon later in the season. Visit their website for the latest news.



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       The River Taw Fisheries and Conservation Association held their annual general meeting at the Mole Resort (formerly High Bullen House Hotel) on Friday March 22nd.

Richard Nickell and Andy Gray

       Members from across the region reflected upon a disappointing season in 2023 with catch returns indicating very poor results for both salmon and sea trout. Sixty salmon and around one hundred sea trout were caught throughout the river season. River flow had been low during the early spring and summer but had been good for the second half of the season. A good number of kelt’s caught at the start of the season gave some cause for optimism for future seasons. Redd counting during the winter had been difficult due to high flows.

       Chairman Andy Gray delivered an outline plan for working closely with the North Devon Catchment Partnership to focus on improving water quality and habitat. This ambitious project aims to unite all who have an interest in the River Taw and its tributaries. Farmer clusters are now receiving payments to invest in environmentally beneficial projects and practices that will benefit the rivers. The Environment Agency are also focussing on agricultural issues with increased officers to both police and enforce regulations.

Measures to reduce flooding and slow the flow are being introduced on tributaries of the Taw investment in leaky dams and buffer zones.

       The recent North Devon District Council meeting was discussed with a recognition that there is greater public awareness regarding sewage discharge incidents by South West Water.

       An increasing run of shad into the river Taw each summer is a positive sign that the weir removal project partially funded by the RTFCA has benefitted the river.

       Pete Tyjas introduced guest speaker Nick Measham CEO  Wildfish. Nick delivered a passionate and enlightening talk and presentation about its work to protect wild fish. Nick highlighted the dramatic decline in salmon stocks estimated at close to 90% between 1970 and 2016. Nick highlighted the three essentials for salmon in our rivers. Clean water, enough water and no barriers. Pollution, over abstraction and barriers to migration are the key issues. Wildfish are working extremely hard to tackle all these issues with data monitoring via their smart rivers project, working to ensure compliance with existing regulations and campaigning to get farmed salmon off the table.


       The talk was followed by the associations annual auction to raise valuable funds for river improvements. Discussion  around the dinner tables after the meeting undoubtedly included debate on the preceding presentation and the prospects for the coming season.