An Autumn Salmon

It is hard to believe that it is early September as I approach the river as the sun slowly climbs above the trees sending shafts of light across the river. The river is in perfect order running at a good height with pleasing  a tinge of colour that one could almost describe as that of fine ale.

I wade out into the cool water and begin my search, optimistic as an angler must be expectant that at any moment the line will zip tight. I absorb the familiar surroundings and listen to the soundtrack of the ever flowing river as it ambles to the sea. Wagtails bob about and a kingfisher flashes past. Fry are abundant in the margins giving hope for future seasons.

The seasons passing is obvious as leaves drift past and I notice a large number of ash leaves undoubtedly a sign of the ongoing of ash die back.

I have fished the river in perfect conditions several times this year and last with four or five years since my last salmon. After fishing the beat carefully drifting my flies across the favoured lies I work my way to the bottom of the beat covering the lies for a second time.

The salmons view as the fly drifts across the river

It is clear that the salmon are not  as abundant as they were when I started fishing this Middle Torridge beat ten years or so ago when leaping salmon and sea trout were a common sight. The picture of a twenty pound salmon further up river is of course an image that maintains hope in the knowledge that the fish had swum past the waters I am fishing.

The sun is now well up in the sky as I place my fly inches from the far bank. As it swings across the river there comes that electric pull down the line and in a magic moment that contact is made with throbbing life on the line. I hold the rod high and savour the moment as the rod kicks before the reel sings. I keep a tight line leaning into the fish as I step sideways allowing the salmon to push up river. The fish hangs deep in mid river; the rod bends, the line pointing into mid river, the salmon holding station in the strong current. For a while the salmon powers up river but as the pressure tells the fish seeks help from the current heading down river as I attempt to maintain a position opposite the fish . I glimpse a wide powerful tail and the flash of silver.

Its always a tense experience playing a salmon hoping that the hook will stay put and the knots hold strong. After around ten minutes I detach the net from my back and the battle continues with the fish on a short line. This is a tense time for many salmon are lost  during that time when the fish is so close to the net.

Then suddenly the fish rolls and is in the net as I give a call of triumph. “Yes!”

I carry the salmon to the margins and slip the barbless double hook from the top jaw. The Go Pro is clipped to my rod handle strategically placed at the water’s edge. I hold the salmon above the water for a brief self-take shot. The flanks of the 10lb plus hen fish are already showing subtle hues of the autumn season. Its image will remain etched upon my mind for the rest of my days fuelling the return to the river in search of silver.

The salmon is held in the cool water head upriver for a couple of minutes until I feel its strength return. It is a great feeling when the fish powers strongly away into the river to continue its amazing journey to hopefully spawn in the next couple of months.

Twenty Pound Torridge salmon

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This 21lb beauty was caught by Barry Mills this evening in Boat Pool at Little Warm Fishery; using his newly acquired ‘weigh net’, which came in pretty handy with a fish this size!

I also fished the River Torridge downstream of Little Warham with conditions perfect  I fished with optimism drifting my flies across proven lies. I failed to connect with any silver tourists but I did see a sea trout leap from the water and glimpsed the electric blue of a kingfisher. With the river now running at a good height i expect salmon to be caught from both Taw and Torridge for the remainder of the season.

Angling Milestones

Two North Devon Anglers set significant personal miles stones this week in different angling disciplines.

Dedicated mullet angler John Shapland spends many frustrating hours targeting grey mullet a species with a reputation for being difficult to tempt. John landed his 100th mullet of 2020 this week!

Ian Blewett is a keen all-round angler with salmon top of his agenda for much of the year. Ian took advantage of perfect conditions on the Taw to land the 100th Atlantic salmon of his angling career. He followed the feat up during the same session with his 101st!

Salmon from the beautiful River East Lyn

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Will Barret spent a recent weekend  fishing the East Lyn landing a brace of salmon estimated at between 5lb and 7lb both caught on flying c and homemade mepps. The river was low after a small spate but producing fish non the less.

If you have read my book “I Caught A Glimpse” you will know that I have a great fondness for the East Lyn and its salmon so I am grateful to Will for sending his recent pictures showing that the river is still producing a few precious salmon. I walked the river recently as the river was swollen by a brief summer spate.  I took a few pictures that I intended to share on here as I know several readers enjoy seeing pictures of this beautiful river.

( Above)The River East Lyn had a reputation for unscrupulous fishers snaring fish by whatever means. The graffiti cut into the concrete path at Overflow pool is testament to a few dodgy rogues who frequented the river in those good old days.

Summer salmon run on North Devon Rivers

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North Devon Rivers are producing some splendid silver bars following a welcome spell of rainfall. Paul Carter enjoyed success on the Lower taw tempting these two stunning salmon on recents trips to the river the larger of the two estimated at 14lb. The salmon were tempted on a small black and yellow barrels double that dropped out in the net. Ian Blewett also enjoyed success banking a 7lb hen salmon. Note all salmon reported are carefully released to continue their upriver migration.

A large salmon estimated at 20lb left one angler heartbroken when his leader snagged and broke on a submerged rock.

The elusive salmon!

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The recent rainfall brought a welcome rise in all of North Devons Rivers and anglers have been hopeful of a salmon or sea trout. The rivers are certainly looking much healthier with a lot of the algae flushed away. River Taw Fisheries Association member Mike George sent me these lovely images of the Middle Taw. Like many anglers Mike has enjoyed the beauty of the river but failed to hook the elusive salmon.

Welcome rain brings hope

Salmon and sea trout anglers across the region have had their spirits lifted following the recent heavy rain hopeful that the salmon and sea trout waiting in the estuaries will forge upriver offering the chance to enjoy that thrilling encounter with the most iconic of silver flanked fish.

I headed for the River Torridge to find the river at a perfect height but with the water a turbid brown and full of sediment I was not hopeful. Salmon fishing is a frustrating game with those perfect conditions often only fleeting. There will be a moment as the water clears following a spate and runs the colour of ale when the fresh run salmon rise freely to the fly as it swings across the river.

Salmon run up river as they smell the freshwater influx following a spate. The initial rush of water is often foul after a prolonged dry spell so the fish will often pause until the water quality improves. The fish that run up river are often intent on their journey and ignore the anglers offerings. There comes a time though as the fish rest for a moment when they can snatch at that tantalising creature that flutters across the current. The reasons salmon take a fly or lure have been debated by anglers far wiser than I. The fact is that they sometimes do and if you have faith and persist that delightful moment of connection will come.

Despite the imperfect conditions I fished carefully down through the river absorbing the vibrant surroundings of early summer. Relishing the constantly flowing river, the glimpse of electric blue as a kingfisher darted past. The birdsong resonating all around and the abundant wildflowers that thrive along the river bank. I also noted that all is not well in our world as I gazed at the ash trees suffering from the onset of ash die back. It is estimated that up to 95% of ash trees will succumb around 25% of our woodland!

Grey skies and ash die back

Hopefully I will report on a salmon or two over the coming days for there are plenty of salmon in the river they have been leaping in the estuary for weeks and have been seen forging up over the weirs.

STAY HOME AND STAY SAFE

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(Below)The E.A’s Watersmeet Fishery is closed to fishing in line with Government advice until the current COVID-19 pandemic is over.

(Above) Ross Stanway sent this image of his latest artwork. A sea trout painted a piece of slate. Many will be hoping that there will be some season left after shutdown to cast a fly for these stunning silver tourists.

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.

http://www.rivertawfisheries.co.uk

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT 2020

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