Saturday, 13 October 2018

Now the drought REALLY breaks!

My last post proved to be a little premature - as soon as Storm Bronagh had passed, summer returned, with warm days and nights, and rivers dropping right back to dead low once more. Salmon fishing remained hopeless, and even the trout were tough to catch. I had an afternoon for grayling on the Tamar a few days ago, where each footstep in the water was like an earthquake, each step a tsunami, and the most delicate cast landed like a shipwreck. Despite spooking a lot of fish, I managed 6 beautiful grayling and 8 lovely, out-of-season brownies, all on small dry cdc patterns.
Storm Callum is still raging as I write, with 2.8 inches of rain here at Lifton in the past 30 hours. The rivers are still rising, raging down the valleys in full, glorious spate, carrying leaves, branches and entire trees on their journey to the sea. Salmon and sea trout, bottled up for months in the lower river, will now make strenuous efforts to reach their chosen spawning grounds. It will be quite a sight on the weirs as these fish valiantly fling themselves at the maelstrom. I never fail to marvel at their determination, and we all wish them well on their travels.
David Pilkington

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The drought breaks!

Storm Bronagh swept across Devon overnight on Thursday 20th September. We recorded almost an inch of rain here at Lifton, and the moors and high ground would certainly have had significantly heavier stuff. All the rivers were in a filthy spate first thing on Friday, most of them up around a foot, and carrying all the accumulated silt and algae of the whole summer. The rain had already cleared to a few sharp but very short-lived showers, and in no time at all the levels started to fall.
David walked up to Hartley weir on Beat 3, where the Lyd was roaring over the weir, half of which had been dry land for many weeks. The salmon have taken no time at all to start moving, and a number of salmon and sea trout were leaping at the weir. All the salmon seen were well coloured, as were the sea trout, and are now moving up into the higher reaches in preparation for spawning.
Sergegs Llobanov from Latvia was here for a 50th birthday weekend,  courtesy of his daughter who is at university in Britain. He fished Tinhay lake in the morning and had 4 rainbows, but was keen to fish for real trout on a river. After lunch, having had a quick scout around to check on levels and clarity, David took him to Beat 17 on the upper Lyd which, although still fairly rattling along, had cleared to a fishable state.
A few trout were actually rising, and Sergegs was delighted to catch several trout, including his first ever on a dry fly, an Elk Hair caddis of his own tying. David could not resist a few casts on the Lyd up on Beat 20, where he landed 9 brownies, best two at 8 inches, all on a dry CDC sedge. All the fish were in lovely condition, and the bigger mature trout were obviously well on towards spawning. Careful handling and barbless hooks had them all safely back in the river in seconds.
Rain is falling again, and is forecast to do so all day and on into Sunday morning, so we are expecting rivers to rise again today and indeed tomorrow. At least the summer of 2018, very nice though it may have been for some, has well and truly ended, the parched ground has had a good soaking, and fish are ascending the system once again. We will not be sad to see the end of the drought, and wish our fish a very successful time on the redds.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Leave no stone unturned!

Click on the video below for a view of an otter on the Tamar, taken Sunday 16th September. David had just fished the shallows ( well, the whole river is 'shallows' at present) and taken a salmon parr and two brownies, when the otter appeared almost at his feet. It is difficult to see just what the animal is eating, but by the very quick chomping of the jaws and the immediate resumption of hunting it must be small stuff, possibly loach or bullheads. David filmed the creature for quite a while before, as is obvious, he was at last spotted. The otter makes a poor effort at retreating, takes another look, and carries on fishing completely unperturbed. All this took place at around 4.00 p.m., not bad for a supposedly shy and nocturnal beast.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Still 'enjoying' the 'wonderful' summer of 2018

You may have noticed that it has been rather warm this summer, and slightly short of rain. Here in the now green and pleasant land of Devon, one could almost believe that all was well. Sadly, the dribs and drabs of drizzle which fell here and there in August, although just sufficient to green up the fields and bring the silage munchers out in force, has been woefully inadequate to top up the parched ground. While digging a hole for a fence post recently, David went down to his elbow in the soil and it was still coming up like dust, completely dry. So, unsurprisingly, our rivers are a tad low.

This is the river Thrushel at the gauging station at the top of beat 5B.

This is the river Lyd on Beat 2 by the Ambrosia factory. Although very low and tranquil, the Lyd is fed from the high tops of Dartmoor and has still managed to retain some hint of a resemblance to a river. Sea trout have made their way through to above the weir on Beat 3, but even for night fishers they have been elusive in the sedate and clear water.

Wow! A river bubbling with a strong flow of water. This is the gauging station on the river Thrushel on Beat 4, only a couple of miles downstream from the first photo. Roadford reservoir is currently releasing 80 megalitres of water a day, which comes down the river Wolf, into the Thrushel, then the Lyd, and on down the Tamar to Gunnislake, where it is all pumped out to go and keep the good people of Plymouth suitably hydrated. This picture comprises about 95% reservoir water, and of course this does not reach the sea. However it is very useful to give our guests some flowing water in which to drift a fly.

The river Tamar at Polson gauging station on Beat 9A. Odd bits of drizzle and the occasional shower have given a lift of a few inches once or twice during August, the line of bleached algae on the concrete showing how the river came up all of about 3 inches a couple of times. Amazingly there is a very small number of salmon upstream of this point, but they are unlikely to take at any time soon. A serious monsoon is now very much needed.
The trout have at last come into their true form for September, feeding enthusiastically, but requiring good casting and presentation.

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.