Saturday, 31 March 2018

Spring (!) 2018

A few weeks ago, the possibility of Spring loomed large. The hazel catkins were opening out into classic 'lamb's tails', pussy willow buds were peeping, and blackbirds sang lustily. Then came the 'beast from the east', next was Storm Emma, closely pursued by the (not so!) mini beast. Dartmoor lay white under snow, thawing very slowly, the Tamar peaked at 8, and then 10 feet. Rain fell relentlessly, the water table rose ever higher, and rivers stayed somewhere between too high to fish, and a yellow flood warning. 
The equinox is well past, the clocks have gone forward, but hopes of spring have receded daily. So far it has not been feasible to fish for the brownies, despite their season being open. The water is still very cold and fly hatches have yet to start in earnest. Some time soon, the Grannom will swarm, the Large Dark Olives will sail majestically down the stream, and all will be well in Devon once more.


Elmer Fudd lives!
 A very high and brown river Lyd. No sign of cormorants here today, but we are ever prepared for them. Sea trout smolts are already heading to the sea, and their salmon cousins will soon follow. These little priceless mini-bars of silver need all the help they can get on their perilous journey, the Benelli M2 is choked to go.


Dog's Mercury in flower - yes, the almost invisible yellow heads are as close to a flower as this plant ever gets. Wood Anemones are in bloom just behind the Dog's Mercury. Harry spaniel, constant companion with rod and gun, used to browse this plant like a hungry bullock, but we have recently discovered that it is toxic to humans.



Daffodils bloom beside the swollen waters of the Lyd.



Despite today being the last day of March, the blackthorn is stubbornly refusing to flower. Tiny tight buds will soon be a sea of delicate white, like snow along the hedges. A little warmth and sunshine would be most welcome.




Cracking footage of a bitch otter fishing - who said they were nocturnal? Keep your eyes on the slack water beyond the main flow at first. Note how sometimes she surfaces very rapidly like a porpoise, this is for breathing. On the occasions when she holds her head above water for a few seconds, often drifting down with the flow, notice that her jaws are working and she is in fact munching a small fish. We are very proud of our resident population of otters on our rivers, they have now fully recovered from the ravages of persistent pesticides which decimated them back in the 1960's. Their steady recovery has pushed out the invasive non-native mink, which were such a problem not so many years ago.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Winter solstice

Technically, the solstice is in a couple of days time, but the days are so short and the nights so long right now that it matters not. The weather in Devon recently has been all over the place, a lot of very mild days, plenty of rain, and some frost and snow. The Tamar peaked at over 8 feet last week, and Dartmoor was wearing its white cap, today we are fog-bound and totally devoid of any wind. 
The good news is that despite poor salmon catches in what was really quite good water, we have had a relatively good lot of salmon spawning, and the spawning season seems to be a long one. The first salmon redds were seen on the Upper Lyd as early as 21st November, surprisingly early given that the water temperatures were then still quite high, which inhibits the fish ripening. Colder weather brought temperatures down to more normal levels, around 8 degrees C last week, with plenty of salmon cutting redds on the Thrushel and main beats of the Lyd. On December 14th a salmon was seen going up over Hartley weir on the Lyd on Beat 3, indicating that it was a fish still moving upstream and yet to spawn. So with all the doom and gloom about salmon stocks ( watch out for the new catch-and release regulations set to come into force next season) rattling about, there is still hope for future generations of fish.
So, with all this talk of next season, may Alexander Jones and myself wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and Tight Lines for 2018.
David Pilkington 



A pair of salmon on the upper Lyd. Note the small peal and trout lying just downstream, still hopeful that the hen fish will shed a few more eggs. Nourishmest is in short supply at this time of year.





Grayling fishing was possible at times, when river levels were low and clear enough. Our grayling total this season has been at record levels, a product of both excellent stocks of this beautiful fish, and the fact that more anglers are targeting grayling with many of the new styles of nymph fishing. 

A frosty morning on the river Wolf, hoar frost on the dead riverside vegetation. A long wait before the river comes to life next spring.


Otter tracks and a scrape/scent mark on the clean sand left after the last spate, beside Beech Tree pool on the Lyd. Fly floatant bottles for size comparison.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Autumn rains, Autumn leaves

The past two months have seen exceptional rainfall over the Westcountry, with spates occurring consistently every few days. The water was often hopeless for trout fishing, while night sea trouting was pretty well killed off completely before July had even ended. A huge spate in early August saw the Lyd peak at just over 1.8 meters, while another in early September put the Tamar up to 1.76 meters. Trout and sea trout fishing is just about to close down, while we have another fortnight left for the salmon. With 14 fish on our catch charts so far, plus two more from Endsleigh, we have already exceeded last year's rather poor catch of only 13 salmon, while the sea trout total is likely to be just a few fish less than last year (137).

The view down the Tamar at Lyd Foot pool in the first week of August. The monster Lyd spate was proportionally much higher than the Tamar, and has produced a massive bank of gravel and stones right across the pool, running diagonally from the Devon to the Cornish bank, and clearly visible in this photo. The normal tail of the pool can be seen several yards downstream in the distance. It has not stopped salmon from lying near the head of the pool in the Tamar run, which produced fish of 7 and 12 pounds a few days after this shot was taken.

An 18 inch Lyd sea trout. Just a few casts previously David had a take from a salmon which he had just seen show, when this peal took it behaved more like a salmon and until almost in the net David believed he was playing a small grilse.


In early September John Rigby and party came for a couple of nights sea trout fishing, but had to contend with daytime instead due to high and coloured water. It was not a bad call, with John's fish above being well eclipsed by one of four and a half pounds for Steve Lidgate, unfortunately we do not have a picture. This is likely to be our biggest sea trout for this year.

Eliza Pettit with her first salmon, taken on a Beginner's Salmon Course last weekend. The fish was a 22 inch fresh grilse, from Lower Tunnel pool on beat 7B, which took a small Park Shrimp tube fly. The hook and fly came out as soon as the fish was netted, and can be seen in the net. The fish never left the water, and swam away strongly. Eliza's father, James, had an eight-pounder from Tunnel pool only half an hour later.


David Pilkington, hooking a leaf about every third cast, in Silver Doctor pool on the Lyd. As a highly experienced fly fisher who took his first salmon 50 years ago, and with an intimate knowledge of the Arundell Arms water, David spectacularly failed to catch any of the three different salmon which showed in the pool a few minutes after this shot was taken. He is currently seeking advice on technique from Eliza.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Fun in the sun

Low water has persisted for much of the first part of the trout season, but there has been some fine fishing on our rivers. Sea trout are now running in increasing numbers every night, and we are making forays to the coast in pursuit of the bass.

David Pilkington failing spectacularly to catch a nice trout rising in this tasty little run on the Ottery


A stealthy approach in low clear water.


The reward, a cracking wild brownie in top condition.


David Chapman of the Westcountry Rivers Trust demonstrating kick-sampling for invertebrates on our Wild Trout weekend. Note full summer elegance.


Striding through a gentle surf for bass on the north Devon coast.
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Charlie Coups with her first night-caught sea trout, a beauty of  3 pounds 4 ounces from the Lyd.




David exhibiting the level of concentration needed to catch wild trout. Note the downward glance at a fast moving reflection of a bird on the water surface, the upward glance to determine if it was a cormorant, and the trout taking full advantage of this to take and eject the mayfly. Expletive deleted. It was a mallard.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

April trout fishing


In the words of T.S. Eliot, April is the cruellest month, stirring dull roots with spring rain. Well, true enough, except for the rain, which has been totally absent for the month so far. Some nights have been cruelly cold, frost early, to be swept away by a hard bright sun, not exactly what the fisherman would order, but then, it is April. A symptom of the cold conditions has been the number of grayling still being taken by trout fishers - as the water warms the grayling become preoccupied with spawning and are seldom caught, but are still featuring regularly in catches on our rivers. 


The staring eye of a grayling, taken on the River Ottery yesterday on a nymph. Note the overshot top jaw, indicating the primarily bottom- feeding habit of the grayling.


 David Pilkington about to land a cracking two-and-a-half pound rainbow on Tinhay lake for young Hugh Shilson, fishing on a four-day beginner's courses. Note that we are huddled in winter coats. 

Total focus and concentration on the lad's face as the fish veers away from the net.

Marilyn Whitmell with a five-pounder from Tinhay.

The moment a trout fell for the nymph on the Ottery, necessitating a rapid strike.

Grannom ( Brachycentrus Subnubilis) are still the main hatching fly, although the first of the Black Gnats are already on the water in small numbers - when they really get going, so will the trout,




Superb footage of a dog otter feeding in the shallows at the tail of Willow Pool on the Tamar. Otters regularly work the shallow stickles for loach and bullheads, if you watch this one carefully you can see his jaws chomping. Darren Saunders, fishing wet fly on our beginner's course, was concentrating so hard on his fishing that he failed to see the competition in his pool for several seconds.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The trout season is upon us!


March on the river - spring sunshine and the chance to fly fish once again. Realistically, the fish are still recovering from spawning, and very little fly will be hatching this early in the year. The water is still cold, and we have been close to freezing overnight. However, who could not enjoy a day like this?


In the absence of a rising trout, David tries a nymph in a tempting little pool on the river Wolf.


A nymph of the stone-clinging variety, a heptagenid.

This stone was crawling with Simulium larvae. These little guys will soon pupate in their distinctive flat-sided conical cases, before emerging in swarms as Black Gnats.

A close-up of another heptagenid. The head and leg segments are all angled downwards like the spoilers on a racing car, to allow the nymph to cling onto stones even in a fast current.

The sight of a rising trout prompts a change to the dry fly. A dry Grannom Emerger - how could any trout resist this? 

Here's one which couldn't!

The barbless hook held well, but came out easily.

Absolutely stunning colours of a wild river Wolf brown trout - the adidose fin is always bright red, but the spot on this one is quite unusual.

Winter is not really gone while the blackthorn blossoms.



An underrated flower, the blackthorn is so pretty at close quarters.

Alex really likes photographing nymphs!

Daffodils will very soon be over, but the riverbanks are a riot of them at present.