Casting Into North Devon’s Rapid Streams

A couple of hours wading upriver passed all too quickly on a North Devon stream. It proved frustrating at time with the river very low and clear making it difficult to approach the pools without spooking the trout that could be seen darting away as I approached.

Flicking a bushy dry fly into the streamy water at the head of pools and runs rewarded me with a couple of beautiful wild browns of around 10″ and 8″.

www.nigelnunnflies.com

The lush green growth and abundant bird life of the river valley in late spring is undoubtedly England at its best.

The water I fished is South Molton & District Angling Club water on the River Bray. I picked a book of my bookshelf ” Trout Fishing On Rapid Streams”, by H.C. Cutcliffe FRCS, Published in 1883 the book comprises A Complete System of fishing the North Devon streams and their like.
In the preface of the book the author mentions David Bale, now I think a letter-carrier, residing at High Bray. He is the best worm fisher I ever saw, and forever, is a most civil, indeed I may say polite man, truthful and honest and will be found a most respectable and well informed companion to the fishermen, who, I Trust will not forget to well acknowledge the merits of honest old David, now I fancy, not over well provided with the good things of this life”. The picture above shows High Bray Church upon the hill. It is reassuring to think that I fished the waters that David Bale cast his worm into over a century ago and the trout that I tempted would be direct descendants. Long may these rivers continue to thrive with their crimson spotted trout.

“In getting at these several little holes and currents, dont be afraid of your knees: keep down close to mother earth: go on your knees or crawl on your stomach; remember the trout is there, and you can catch him if you work properly and do not frighten him away.” These words of wisdom apply equally today!

A Successful Cast

The river was running low and clear as I  threaded the line through the rings tying one of Nigel Nunn’s scruffy dry fly creations to a fine leader. It was a cool calm overcast evening and no fish appeared to be rising as I watched the water.

www.nigelnunnflies.com

            Lambs pranced in the fields, spring flowers lined the banks and birdsong filled the air. With life throwing a few challenges the river gave a welcome relief as I waded carefully into the clear water. I was using a light weight Snowbee classic rod and flicked the dry fly up stream focusing on the buoyant fly as it alighted and drifted down.

            I have never enjoyed a great deal of success casting into calm still pools on these small rivers with fish far more liable to slip up in the streamy fast water at the pool’s heads or deeper runs.

            Searching the water as I waded and scrambled as stealthily as I could upstream; a true tonic fully focussing the mind upon the moment. The bushy fly bobbed buoyantly and I was heartened to raise a couple of smallish trout that I failed to connect with. Threading the back cast between overhanging branches proved challenging at times but tangles were few and my rhythm felt good as the fly alighted repeatedly in promising spots.

            The living river valley filled the senses, wild garlic in full flower its pleasing scent released from time to time as it was crushed underfoot. Carpets of bluebells beneath the trees with vivid fresh green starting to show. Ferns were unfurling and bird song drifted across the valley with activity all around as parent birds searched for food.

            I had covered perhaps half a mile of water when I flicked the fly into a streamy run.

A swirl on the surface, a flick of the wrist and that delightful connection. The light rod pulsed in my hand as the fish fought in the strong current. I relished the moments and was thrilled when the fish was safely pulled over the rim of the net. I admired its spotted flanks, slipping the barbless fly from its jaws  grabbed a picture of a 12” beauty, holding the fish for a moment in the flow.

It disappeared  with a flick of its tail, gone from whence it had come a vision etched upon the minds eye.

            I continued my search for  another half an hour before walking back to the car as the evening light began to fade. I glanced under the old bridge and thought about exploring the river below next time.

The western sky glowed pink over the horizon as I drove home and I thought of the coast and casting a lure to bass in the fading light or maybe waiting for a smoothound to scream away.

South Molton Angling Club – River Work & Litter Pick

I joined four members of South Molton Angling to undertake some work clearing debris from a stretch of the River Bray near Brayford.

Parking in an adjacent lay-by we were dismayed to find it strewn with litter that had been casually discarded by a section of society that appears to have no shame. Fortunately club Chairman Eddie Rands had a couple of fertiliser sacks in his pick up truck and after ten minutes or so we had cleared the vast majority of the offending material. It is sickening to see this total lack of respect for our beautiful countryside.

In the nearby woods a carpet of bluebells carpeted the slopes as welcome rain fell in the valley giving valuable water to boost the lush spring growth.

In the river we tackled a large trash dam that had built up behind a tree that had succumbed to the winter storms. We trimmed the mass of branches and roots opening up a small pool that will hopefully harbour a few trout that we may tempt with a carefully presented fly. A quick look over the rocks of the riverbed revealed plenty of caddis and a few clusters of bullhead eggs.

We chatted at length about the health of local rivers and the once prolific runs of fish. Stories of poachers that once stole fish from the rivers were exchanged and whilst tales of the fish these rogues killed were sad the fact that the fish are no longer there to steal is even sadder.

The problems that beset our rivers are both complex and many. Understanding the issues is perhaps the start of putting things right.

South Molton Angling Club – UNDERTAKE CITIZEN SCIENCE

Half a dozen members of South Molton Angling Club attended a  Riverfly count combined with  Westcountry CSI (Citizens Scientist Investigations). https://wrt.org.uk/project/become-a-citizen-scientist/ They enjoyed a Spring day in glorious sunshine beside the beautiful River Bray near Brayley Bridge. The results from both exercises exceeded all expectations with plenty of river life present. https://www.riverflies.org

The discovery of a number of eggs attached to the base of stone raised questions as to their origin. Further enquiries to an expert within the West Country Rivers Trust revealed that they were the eggs of a freshwater bullhead or Millers Thumb that spawn during March and April. These delightful fish are undoubtedly etched upon many minds as small fish caught as children exploring streams and rivers.

South Molton Anglers – River Working

I joined members of South Molton Angling Club on one of their stretches of fishing along the River Bray. This was the first of a couple of bank clearing work parties organised throughout the season. It was a delightful Spring day with a bright blue sky and a pleasure to be at the waterside with fellow anglers keen to carry out some early season work.

(Above) Before

(Above )After

The club rents several stretches of water and work with the landowners permission to undertake a minimal amount of river maintenance to allow access to fishing areas. The winter storm always bring a few fallen trees that can block the river and render some areas un-fishable. Substantial trash dams and fallen trees can also lead to serious bank erosion so these also need tackling.

A couple of hours hard work addressed a few areas of concern and also enabled the normal good humoured banter and discussion to flow. The long dead carcass of a red deer stag intrigued us all as we debated its demise. Had it died of old age, been shot or hit by a car? It is likely that the poor creature had gone to the river for its last drink before passing away to decompose beside the ever-flowing river the nutrients from its body returning to the land in natures never-ending cycle.

Questions and speculation abound during the autopsy

A HELP IN HAND FOR SPAWNING SALMON

I joined South Molton Angling Club members Edward Rands and Roger Bray on a stretch of their club water on the River Bray to observe work being undertaken to clean the gravel where it is hoped salmon and sea trout will spawn this coming winter. Jeremy Weeks and David Weeks have been working to cleanse potential salmon and sea trout spawning areas over recent years for the Taw Spawning Habitat Improvement Project (SHIP). This important work is coordinated and funded by the West Country Rivers Trust and River Taw Fisheries and Conservation Association. The work entails pumping water into the gravel at the tail of pools to loosen and dislodge the silt that clogs the potential spawning areas (redds). Plentiful oxygen is essential for the successful survival of salmon ova and fry. The South Molton Angling Club have also carried out moderate bank clearing to expose riffles to light and maintain shady pools.

It was unfortunate that sods law intervened with heavy rain the previous night colouring the water to make conditions poor resulting in the work being rescheduled for another day later in the week. Jeremy and David were however able to give a demonstration and talk at length about their work and its value.

The dwindling stocks of salmon and sea trout are of great concern to anglers who invest time, money and effort into habitat improvement. The reasons for the decline in salmon and sea trout are many and complex. Whilst many of these factors are beyond the influence of anglers every bit of habitat improvement can help to ensure the long time survival of these iconic species.

TOPE FEEDING FRENZY FOR SOUTH MOLTON ANGLERS

With a calm day forecast it was great to arrive at Ilfracombe harbour and climb aboard John Barbeary’s Bluefin with members of South Molton Angling Club. With bottom fishing a little slow close to Ilfracombe John had suggested a trip to try the prolific fishing grounds close to Lundy Island. A trip out to fish in the vicinity of this rugged granite outcrop twenty five plus miles from Ilfracombe is a sortie I always relish as the scenery is spectacular and adds a welcome dimension to the fishing.

With reports of a few early tope showing first stop would be to anchor up and fish over low water with big baits. It was misty as we sailed out of Ilfracombe and headed West towards Lundy. As we looked back the morning sun started to burn through the morning mist and illuminate the Bristol Channel. A porpoise rolled in front of the boat. We all chatted enthusiastically about fish, the lack of fish and life in general as John delivered hot coffees and teas.

By the time we arrived at the banks and dropped anchor the sunshine had broken through and we were sat upon a mirror calm sea of blue. A variety of large fish baits were sent into the deep clear water impaled upon large strong hooks attached to wire traces or strimmer cord!

Within minutes Matt Brady was in action as a hard fighting tope seized his bait putting a healthy bend in his rod. Over the next hour or so over the low water slack a succession of tope hit our baits in a feeding frenzy giving exciting tussles and a few frustrating tangles. In total 16 tope were boated along with a few bull huss to 11lb a couple of smoothound and one or two inevitable doggies.

By the sound of the voices echoing across the water anglers were enjoying similar sport a short distance away in another Charter boat.

As the tide started to pick up general consensus was that we should try  drifting for other species using lures and baited feathers.

Drifting the West side of Lundy gave an opportunity to view the spectacular granite cliffs that were in parts decorated with patches of pink thrift. Cormorants stood drying their wings and seals basked in the warm sun. We even caught sight of a few puffins with their bright clown like beaks.

The fish finder showed plenty of fish close to the bottom yet action was slow as we drifted over the numerous peaks and pinnacles that lie to the West of Lundy. Sidewinders brought a few hard fighting pollock up around 4lb and baited feathers attracted more pollock a solitary small coalfish and some brightly coloured cuckoo wrasse.

John worked hard searching the reefs but it was obvious that the fish were not feeding well. This could have been due to the small tide we were fishing, light values or even lure choice. The complexities of angling are many and as I often say this all part of this intriguing game.

It was an enjoyable cruise back to Ilfracombe on a calm sea. The beautiful North Devon coast looked splendid with its steep green cliffs punctuated with vast sandy beaches that were undoubtedly packed with families, surfers and sun-worshippers.

The sizeable pollock were filleted a tasty and healthy reward for the day afloat.

We soon glided into Ilfracombe harbour dominated by the conversation stimulating statue Verity. Tourists were abundant and it was good to sense a feeling of normality returning to the seaside town.

South Molton Anglers Visit Bratton Water

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I joined several members of South Molton Angling Club on a mild misty autumn morning at Bratton Water. Conditions were ideal for trout fishing and all members completed their three fish bags before the close of the competition. The water was gin clear and small imitative patterns resulted in the quickest full bags. The best trout caught was a stunning brown trout of 3lb 15oz that fell to my rod on just the second cast of the morning. Roger Bray tempted the best rainbow of 3lb. All fish fought hard and were in superb condition.

This picturesque and sheltered  water should offer great sport in the coming months as autumn hues tint the wooded valley. Dry flies can work well right through the autumn with some stunning browns caught each season.

South Molton Angling Club – Boat Trip

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South Molton Angling Club enjoyed a trip out of Clovelly with Independent Charters on a dry, bright and sunny allowing them to venture to the waters West of Hartland Point where they  caught Pollack, dogfish, pouting,black bream,Huss,smoothound,tope and a ballan wrasse.
As always Eddie Rands reported good banter and everyone enjoying themselves.