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 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.
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!
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.
(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.
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.
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.
A new salmon season began on Sunday March 1st but looking at the Taw below Newbridge on the eve of the season I doubt if any of the North Devon rivers will be fishable for at least a week. Early season is often hampered by high river levels and in the longer term this could be to anglers advantage as it will hopefully mean that there is a plenty of water well into the season. The early part of the season can produce some of the biggest fish of the year with big fresh run spring salmon one of angling greatest prizes. Don’t forget that all salmon have to be returned to the river in the first three months of the season. Catch and release is also encouraged throughout the entire season with barbless single hooks preferable.
Many thanks to John Slader for contributing to North Devon Angling News following on from William Ould’s writings.
Your recent post with the contribution from William Ould I found most interesting and it brought back many happy memories of the river Lyn I like to call home.
Not sure if William will remember me but for sure he will recall Bill my father. There is not much difference in age but being brought up and going to school in Barnstaple our paths didn’t cross that often. I remember him along with Michael Shute and Chick Andrews, not to mention a host of other individuals that frequented the river.
Regretting not having kept a diary, I nevertheless vividly recollect an occasion fishing for mullet just below Lyndale bridge on a high tide. William was also there and at the top of the tide he hooked and landed a specimen of a mullet. I have in my mind it was much bigger than the 4lb 9oz show in the photograph. It drew a crowd of visitors and Jack Clapp came out of his café to see what all the fuss was about and killed the fish by breaking its neck. Not such a fitting end to a splendid fish.
As a child I often accompanied my father when he was salmon fishing but my true first time for salmon was in 1960 when at the age of nine he bought me a day’s licence as a birthday present. Costing the sum of five shillings, a not insignificant sum in those days, he bought it at Tregonwell’s on the Tors Road. We sat on the first floor looking down the river as Ronald Burgess filled out the paperwork and my father enquired whether there was a concession for a child. He was told there wasn’t as it was not expected someone of my age would fish for the king of fish.
Licence secured, we went up to Watersmeet walking up the path behind the house towards Stag Pool and Horner. The route taking you well above the river and what my father always referred to as the “Hangings”; an area which brought me into contact with a number of fish in later life. The path eventually comes back into close proximity to the river below Stag pool. I was given instructions to stay put whilst my father back tracked and ventured down to Dumbledon a particular favourite pool of his although not so easy to access.
As I was waited for his return I looked into the river to see a salmon laying back in what was a very small pool. I cautiously took a few steps closer and surprisingly managed to get into position without disturbing the fish. Using a No 4 mepp I cast upstream but my inexperience kicked in as I managed to line the fish which immediately shot off and took sanctuary in the white water. My heart sunk believing I had scuppered my chances but I had a couple more blind casts only to find myself attached to the fish hooked fair and square in the mouth. Typical youngster I held my ground not wanting to give the fish an inch and shouting at the top of my voice “Dad, Dad….” A waste of breath really as any shouting would have been drowned out by the sound of the river. As luck would have it, looking down river, my father’s head appeared over the rocks as he exited Dumbledon. He quickly negotiated the rocks to join me and help land the fish; a grilse of just over 4lbs.
Returning to Watersmeet we each had a celebratory small bottle of fizzy grapefruit and Dad caught up on the news with childhood friend Roy Nercombe.
I went on to catch many more salmon in the 60’s / 70’s but none stick in the memory quite as much as the first.
The last time I fished the Lyn for salmon must have been over 15 – 20 years ago. I was visiting my parents in Barnstaple in August after very heavy rainfall; what would have been the perfect conditions in years gone by. I arrived in Lynmouth at lunchtime but questioned if I would be able to find a parking space although to my surprise there was only one vehicle parked above Vellacotts. Thinking everyone had caught their brace and gone home I ventured down to the river to find an angler fishing in Overflow who, along with a friend, had travelled from Cornwall for a day’s salmon fishing.
We chatted and although he had caught a grilse he had little else to report. Because I couldn’t see the salmon I assumed he had returned it but later during the conversation he opened his bag to reveal the fish. I went on to fish until dusk casting in every known pool from the Tors Road to Watersmeet without a touch and nor did I see a fish in what I considered perfect conditions. Rather disheartened I travelled back to Barnstaple wondering whether I had seen the last Lyn salmon! So sad when I think back to those days of abundance we enjoyed and took for granted back in the 60’s.
Although I still purchase a migratory fish licence I really do call into question whether I will ever cast for a salmon again. I think I would rather live with my memories and feel privileged that I experienced first hand those days which, when we look back on them, were so special.
I was sent this picture of dead salmon seen on the banks of the Torridge Estuary. Such a sight is not uncommon at this time of year. The majority of salmon will have spawned on the redds high up on the rivers headwaters and many die of exhaustion after ensuring the ongoing survival of the species. This salmon was estimated at 8lb to 10lb and was a cock fish judging by its prominent kype.
I always welcome any fish related news, comment and pictures from North Devon.
It is less that two months until the start of the salmon fishing season on our local rivers. Last season was blighted by low flows throughout a large portion of the season. Rumours are that this has been a reasonable spawning season on our local rivers so we must hope that this is true. Salmon numbers have been in decline for decades and every effort must be made to ensure that these iconic fish continue to forge up our rivers each year.
On Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th November we successfully trapped our 10 broodstock (5 hens and 5 cocks). Four of the hens are about 9lb together with one superb fish in excess of 13lb. All the cock fish are in the 4.5lb range. All the fish are in excellent condition and are now being looked after back at the hatchery. We were concerned that with the rivers having been in full spate for the last six weeks all the salmon may have gone through the fish pass, but our worries were unfounded. Indeed there seems to be a steady run in the Okement which is very encouraging.
The lid of the main broodstock tank needed repairing and this was completed by Ken Dunn and David Williams in time to receive the broodstock.
Last year there was a high mortality from the eggs of one of the hens, so the team will be looking closely at out procedures for stripping and fertilising the eggs to minimise the risk of high mortalities.
During the summer the EA carried out juvenile surveys at a limited number of sites on the main river and major tributaries. The results were encouraging. The site at Okehampton Castle on the River Okement always produces good results but this year it was quite outstanding particularly with the numbers of salmon parr.
The Annual Dinner and Raffle:
Another superb evening at The Half Moon. 47 of us enjoyed an excellent meal followed by the raffle and auction. Once again member support for the annual raffle was tremendous and over £1,500 was raised which will go towards continuing our efforts to improve the fishing on this beautiful river. In particular this money is used to finance the running of the hatchery. Particular thanks to Paul Ashworth, our Chairman, and his wife Geraldine who organised the raffle and the auction which as always went off without a hitch with the usual wonderful array of prizes.
The Fishing Season:
Following on from 2018 the salmon anglers were hoping for more water and more fish: but it was not to be. It has been another season with predominantly low flows with few salmon caught. We were all hoping that the autumn rains would arrive in time to provide some good fishing at the back end of the season. The rains did arrive but our weather went from one extreme to another. The river was in full spate for the last 10 days of the season and since then there has hardly been a dry day. In the last fortnight there have been two large floods, with the river over the top of the hedges at Sheepwash on 25th October.
The brown trout fishing in May and June was at times quite outstanding. Often although there was little surface activity anglers who persevered with a dry fly were rewarded with some excellent catches. As in 2018 several trout upwards of 2lb have been caught.
There seemed to be a better run of sea trout this year. A small spate in June encouraged fish to move upstream and they spread throughout the system. I haven’t heard of any very large sea trout being caught and the main run seems to have been in the 2/3lb range with some fish up to 5lb.