Exe Valley – Talking Trout Report by Wayne Thomas

This weekend well known local angling journalist and pursuer of anything with fins, Wayne Thomas, visited Exe Valley Fishery to spend some time talking fishing, casting a fly and behind the lens of his camera.  Very kindly he has agreed that we may reproduce the article he wrote following his visit which first appeared on Wayne's excellent North Devon Angling News website.  

Just before I leave you to sit back and enjoy Waynes wonderful images and text, which I am sure will have you reaching for the tackle, please note that Exe Valley Fishery is open for business as usual following my recent decision to join the team at Farlows based in central London.  I will work behind the scenes to maintain the sport as always with my wife Sue taking on the day to day management. 

This week we have received several calls and messages while also hearing rumours that Exe Valley has closed down.  As can be seen from the following words & pictures ... this is very much not the case! 

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The salmon season over it was time to head off for a days Still-water Trout Fishing and hopefully put a bend in the rod. I was joining Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club to compete in their Rogers And Guard Shield Competition at Exe Valley Fishery. I can well remember Gordon Rogers who was one of the club members the shield was named after. Gordon was a Fishery Bailiff with the River Authorities of the 1970’s and a real character who many local anglers will have fond memories of.

The competition was due to start at 10:00am and I intended to get there in plenty of time so I set off just before 8.00am for an enjoyable drive across Exmoor.

Exe Valley Fishery is located just outside the boundaries of the stunning Exmoor National Park - image courtesy of Wayne Thomas.

Exe Valley Fishery is located just outside the boundaries of the stunning Exmoor National Park - image courtesy of Wayne Thomas.

A good days fishing is more than just a day casting a line it is often all about the entire day. As I negotiated the narrow lanes up onto the moor mist lay in the valleys as the sun climbed higher into a bright blue sky.

I noted several keen photographers out and about catching the morning light. On the high moor I glimpsed red deer blending into the bracken; the autumn stag were undoubtedly bellowing their challenge across the open moor. It was an awesome morning to be going fishing.

I arrived at Exe Valley to find that one or two members were already raring to start. I grabbed a coffee and began chatting with fishery manager Nick Hart and his wife Sue. Nick is embarking upon a new adventure joining www.farlows.co.uk in Pall Mall’ London. I have fished with Nick many times over the years and share his enthusiasm for fishing. After over an hour of chatting I decided I had better head out and do a bit of fishing. I had after all paid £35.00 for a three fish ticket + the option to release three trout, as part of the fishery’s innovative ticket choice system.

An October flat calm - image courtesy of Wayne Thomas

An October flat calm - image courtesy of Wayne Thomas

The sun was shining down on a mirror calm lake that was surrounded by a dozen or so anglers. I tied on a small gold head pheasant tail nymph and a black buzzer on the dropper. Trout were active all over the lake and a couple of members had already caught their three fish bags so I was on a catch up mission.

After a few casts I had had no takes. With fish showing all over the surface it was obvious that the trout were near the surface. I concluded that a lighter fly would be more likely to succeed and tied on a lightly dressed cruncher pattern.

UV Cruncher - Image by Nick Hart

UV Cruncher - Image by Nick Hart

First cast with this fly and the line twitched on the retrieve, the hook was set and the water erupted as a rainbow trout leapt from the water before putting a serious bend in the rod and stripping several yards of line from the reel.

Wayne bends into a hard fighting Exe Valley Trout - image by Nick Hart

Wayne bends into a hard fighting Exe Valley Trout - image by Nick Hart

Nick took a stroll around the lake and captured action with the next trout I hooked’ a handsome rainbow of close to 3lb 8oz. It wasn’t long before I had completed my three fish bag that was my competition entry for the day.

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I took the opportunity to have a walk around the lake and preserve a few memories of the day with my camera. I was surprised that not everyone had bagged up whilst the trout were in an obliging mood.

A beautiful October day - "These small Stillwater trout fisheries are undoubtedly more productive during the cooler months." Image by Wayne Thomas

A beautiful October day - "These small Stillwater trout fisheries are undoubtedly more productive during the cooler months." Image by Wayne Thomas

The introduction of catch and release during the cooler months at Exe Valley has on the whole been welcomed by anglers who can choose various options combining catch and release and catch and despatch. The fishery has imposed strict rules to ensure that catch and release works as well as possible. Anglers must use barb-less hooks and rubber meshed nets. Trout should not be taken out of the water unless a quick picture is required as a memento of a special fish.

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I decided to pay a quick visit to the site shop and buy a couple of barb-less flies and borrow a landing net with a rubber mesh. I returned to the lake with a fly known as an owl on the point. The number of trout rising had now decreased but a few were still showing and it was these fish I targeted. Watching carefully I attempted to drop the fly in front of cruising trout twitching it soon after letting it settle. Twenty minutes later I had returned two more hard fighting trout.

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Wayne with a bright Exe Valley Rainbow - caught using a dry fly in October!

Wayne with a bright Exe Valley Rainbow - caught using a dry fly in October!

It was now time to head back and weigh in my fish with fellow club members. My three pulled the scales to 9lb and secured me the honour of winning the Rogers and Guard Shield.

It was now time for a coffee and a further chat with Nick about fishing past, present and future. One topic we discussed was the seasons of trout fishing. These small Stillwater trout fisheries are undoubtedly more productive during the cooler months. We both concurred that that there is value in revising the traditional trout fishing seasons. The trout season traditionally casts off in the spring and this is I suspect a follow on from the days before Stillwater trout fishing grew in popularity and wild fish were the target. A closed season during the winter months gave the fish protection during spawning time. This made perfect sense in rivers and where wild fish spawned. Modern day trout fishing on still waters is generally for triploid trout that are sterile.

During the cooler months the trout are more active and fight far harder. It perhaps makes sense to close many trout fisheries during July and August when weed growth is more prolific and water temperatures high. The English climate is not too severe and with modern clothing comfort is ensured.

We also discussed trout fishing tactics the importance of observing the fish to decide fly patterns and the idiosyncrasies of anglers. We could I am sure have talked for many hours. That’s part of angling’s joy for it is the trout and nature that make the rules that we anglers take great joy in analyzing. Before heading home I had a few more casts on the lake relishing the opportunity for one more catch and release rainbow before I left for home. It turned out to be handsome trout of close to 4lb.

It will be business as usual at Exe Valley for the foreseeable future with Sue taking care of the day to running of the lake while Nick embarks upon a new venture working with one of the countries most reputable fishing tackle companies.

Exe Valley Fishery is managed by Sue Hart with assistance from new Farlows fishing manager Nick Hart.

Exe Valley Fishery is managed by Sue Hart with assistance from new Farlows fishing manager Nick Hart.

Its Back – Catch & Release Returns to Exe Valley Fishery

Its back … Catch & Release that is!  I first introduced this service back in Feb 2017 and it was an instant success.  As expected the warm weather spoilt the fun for a few months but now that the cool weather has arrived, along with shorter days, the water temperature has fallen significantly and we once again welcome back those people who like to put back what they catch.  Just recently the phone has been kept busy with anglers keen to fish on a sporting basis and so it is therefore a great pleasure to be able to offer the opportunity once again.

Of course, we also welcome anglers who like to take home a few fish for the table and so our flexible permits reflect this. £25 – 10 fish sporting tickets through to £45 – Keep 5 and Release 5 permits.  There is no obligation to release fish having reached the keep limit, but the option is there for those who would like some more time at the water’s edge, which of course makes the pricing even better value for money.

Exe Valley caters for anglers who like to release their fish ...

Exe Valley caters for anglers who like to release their fish ...

The Catch & Release rules are strict and a few anglers have queried this, especially the compulsory use of barbless hooks, rather than those that have been crimped with a set of pliers or forceps.  By upholding this rule we ensure fish welfare (the most important consideration), eliminating the possibility of injury caused by an improperly debarbed hook.

Barbless hooks are stocked in the lodge for people who would like to tie their own and all of the most popular and successful Exe Valley patterns are available for sale, tied on top quality hooks.  We use Fulling Mill to supply our flies and also have a great range of Blobs tied on Dohiku hooks and incorporating the revolutionary FNF Jelly Fritz.  These are crafted by top competition angler Matt Kingdon who was part of the England Fly Fishing team that won the gold medal on Chew back in May 17.

Rubber mesh nets are also required.  Some anglers already have them but when this is not the case we provide complimentary nets for use while fishing to those people who have the old-style material mesh.  In the not too distant future this rule will change as I intend to provide nets for all anglers using the lake, whether or not they are catching & releasing.  The nets will be stored in a convenient location and a disinfectant bath provided so that they can be dipped prior to fishing and afterwards.

... and those who like to keep for the table.  And you can enjoy the best of both with our keep some, release some permits.

... and those who like to keep for the table.  And you can enjoy the best of both with our keep some, release some permits.

Meanwhile on Anchor Lake the weed is dying back, although not completely so tactics and length of leader are an important consideration in some areas, meanwhile fresh stock continues to be introduced on a twice weekly basis.  Even so some anglers struggle and inform me within the comments section of the returns, by email or both if they have had a tough day.  Here is an excerpt from an email sent by an angler questioning my decision to offer Catch & Release to our customers.

“ I have been reading the catch reports at Exe Valley so decided to travel up from Sidmouth to fish . I fished it last year and found it challenging but was able to hook up with some nice rainbows.  This year there is a major difference and that is c and r.

My visit yesterday Monday 25th was very disappointing. When I arrived about 2 o’clock I was the only fisherman on the property, heaven. Started on the dries, for an hour, nothing. Put flies in the flowing water of the inlet, this area has trout written all over it, perfect, nothing, a couple of half-hearted rises, but I can see plenty of fish hovering at the end of the moving water.

So I moved all around the lake, moving and casting with dries, buzzers, nymphs and finally lures. Had a couple of half-hearted plucks, finally hooking a 2lb rainbow at 6oclock . The lake is full of hook shy fish and that is a consequence of catch and release. Weed is a problem but not as bad as too many fish hooked and returned.

I would love to see the novice anglers of which you speak on your web site catch these fish and I think it a little condescending of you to say that a lot of your customers are poor fishermen / women if they can’t catch. Mixing Catch and release and catch and keep is a very big risk, especially on a small water, and is no doubt reliant on a meticulous restocking policy. I myself am guilty of regularly using C and R waters but on them all there is a common thread, many visible fish, plenty of follows, few hook ups, and it is quite clear when there has been fresh stocking as fish can be caught.”

Name & Email Address Supplied

As a footnote to this email the lake had been restocked prior to the authors visit and anglers had also visited the lake earlier in the day. 

In contrast, a few days later I received the following email.

“I hope you are well. My brother and I decided at very short notice to fish again at Exe Valley again on Sunday, it is fast becoming our favourite fishery.

The fishing was for some reason was very difficult that day with the fish showing no or very little interest in naturals. Despite that my brother caught five with a total bag weight in excess of 16lb with the best fish weighing in at an impressive 7lb 14oz. He caught using black snakes a white gold head daddy and a largish green buzzer under an indicator. He caught his five fish before I caught any. He was fishing in the fast-moving inlet water.

When my brother had caught his bag, I moved to the same spot and quickly caught three, bag weight 10lb 14oz with the best fish at 5lb. Catching on a Black-Eyed Pea and a White Apache. Lures were definitely the order of the day in that fast-moving area of water but interestingly the trout were not showing any interest in lures either in other areas of the lake. Both of the larger fish caught have been entered in the Trout Master competition.

We have now made 4 visits to Exe Valley and between us have managed to catch 41 fish all of which have been in excellent condition. Apart from a very picturesque, cast friendly, well maintained venue the thing that attracts us most and we really appreciate is that you can guarantee the quality and hard fighting nature of the fish stocked.

We will be back again soon.

All the best.

Kind regards

Mike Duckett

The above shows what can be achieved by anglers visiting on a regular basis and searching for the correct tactics rather than a variety of assumptions arrived at following just one unsuccessful visit.  I have been an angler since I was a small boy and sometimes the day just doesn’t pan out and on others it does.  Wouldn’t fishing be very boring if we guaranteed sport on every single occasion that we wet a line?  I would love to hear your views and please feel free to use the comments section below or drop me a line. 

Ultimately my goal is for every angler visiting Exe Valley Fishery to enjoy a fantastic day and one thing is for sure, regular stocking is maintained to offer everyone the best opportunity.  However, I can’t influence the weather (no honestly, I can’t!) and if I provide advice regarding the tactics/flies and it is ignored then there is not a lot more I can do to help.  The disgruntled angler above was clearly offended by my Try small flies & fine leaders at exe valley … not everything in the box post published here on the catch report.  That was not my intention and to anyone else who I may have offended I apologise of course.  However, rereading the post, I feel that it is inoffensive and merely designed to try and assist anglers visiting the fishery … after all that is what the catch report is for!

Moving on to other news I can confirm that Lobbs Lake is currently out of action although work continues to reinstate this part of the venue.  Anchor Lake is very much open for business and as per the post title, Catch & Release permits are now available once again.

I reiterate the above paragraph because just recently I made the news public that from mid-October I will be working with world famous London based tackle suppliers Farlows.  If this is of interest you can find more about the change in my career by reading this blog post over on the Nick Hart Fly Fishing website

Exe Valley Fishery will be managed by Sue Hart with Nick Hart providing assistance behind the scenes as he begins working at Farlows in London.

Exe Valley Fishery will be managed by Sue Hart with Nick Hart providing assistance behind the scenes as he begins working at Farlows in London.

Exe Valley Fishery will continue to remain our business with my wife Sue taking on the day to day management, which she has been involved with for many years.  So, nothing changes other than we also have a couple of other individuals helping out behind the scenes and of course I myself will visit to catch up with all the regulars and because I absolutely love being on the site!  As many of you know who fish with us regularly the venue has had large amounts of development and further improvements will follow.  If anyone reading this post is interested in becoming involved with the management of Exe Valley behind the scenes please make contact by email here or try calling 01398 323008.

This weekend the Wistlandpound Fly Fishing club will visit the venue on Sunday 8th October although this was a late notice booking so if you were hoping to fish we are open as usual with plenty of space and another stock of fish about to be introduced.  Looking ahead to the weather Saturdays changeable conditions look like they will give way to reasonable temperatures on Sunday, with sunny spells and light winds.

More reports soon and we hope you will visit for some great autumn sport which is now better value than ever before with the option to Catch & Release.

Thanks for reading & good fishing,

Nick.

Check out the Exe Valley Facebook page here for regular updates and please give us a Like if you enjoy spending time at the fishery.

Try Small Flies & Fine Leaders at Exe Valley … not everything in the box!

“Loads of fish in there, none of them taking … tried everything in the box” is a phrase that has been echoing around Exe Valley on a regular basis recently.  I have tried explaining how to be in with a chance of catching during the summer months both verbally & online.  Some anglers are taking the advice while others I meet continue to believe that chucking & chancing with an assortment of patterns is going to succeed. 

Check out this leader I picked up on the shores of Anchor Lake yesterday.  The loop is not trampled or dirty so it has not been laying around all that long but the (poorly tied) Montana is rusty, which is not great considering that the hook is also of a very low quality.  Total length of the leader; no more than 6 feet.

Not unusual!  A leader found on the banks of Anchor Lake complete with a rusty hooked Monatna.

Not unusual!  A leader found on the banks of Anchor Lake complete with a rusty hooked Monatna.

This is not unusual.  I find similar leaders, some of them thick enough to land a decent sized Cod, during my walks around Anchor Lake.  Last week I bumped into one of the anglers for a chat about his day.  Unfortunately, he was not all that happy because he wasn’t catching using the thick end of a knotless tapered leader (around 5 feet) with a large Goldhead Cats Whisker attached!  This despite explaining to him upon arrival that small flies, fished in the upper layers of water, using static tactics such as an indicator or with a very slow retrieve, was likely to meet with success.  Catching up with him later in the day I was greeted with the “tried everything” phrase followed up quickly with “and I know what you said Nick but I like fishing heavy leaders so fish don’t snap me off when I hook them!” 

Small Blobs, fished very slowly to near static is worth trying as Mike Stone with a team of young rods from Cullompton found yesterday, landing 4 fish after a late start using this popular lure tied on a #14.  Meanwhile 4 other anglers who arrived much earlier blanked!  Mike is an experienced angler but plenty of novices are also catching.  Each week I introduce several complete beginners to fly fishing who have to learn how to cast before they can have a crack at the Trout.  Often this is after lunchtime when the lake has been pressured by anglers and yet they still manage to catch. 

A 10 fish haul caught on Sunday 6th August by a team of novice anglers.  The Crawford family were enjoying a two day fly fishing course and caught using a mixture of Blobs, Boobies and Buzzers fished under indicators or slowly retrieved in the upper layers.

A 10 fish haul caught on Sunday 6th August by a team of novice anglers.  The Crawford family were enjoying a two day fly fishing course and caught using a mixture of Blobs, Boobies and Buzzers fished under indicators or slowly retrieved in the upper layers.

It could be said that my guests have the benefit of my assistance and are shown the correct techniques.  But we are using very simple tactics, a fine leader & small flies such as Buzzers.  Or we chuck out a dry fly and just wait.  Sometimes we twitch a Blue Flash Damsel in the upper layers, especially in and around the feeder stream area.  However, standing over these fish while thrashing the water to a foam will not meet with much in the way of success!  Standing to one side of the moving water and using the current to fish the flies naturally is a far better option. 

More new fly anglers.  This is John Lovick on the left with a fine Trout landed on a Buzzer while his son Stuart was very pleased to connect with a similar specimen using a Blue Flash Damsel. They caught 5 fish between them on Thursday 10th August and until then had never even touched a fly rod, let alone cast one!

More new fly anglers.  This is John Lovick on the left with a fine Trout landed on a Buzzer while his son Stuart was very pleased to connect with a similar specimen using a Blue Flash Damsel. They caught 5 fish between them on Thursday 10th August and until then had never even touched a fly rod, let alone cast one!

All of the above advice I pass on to day ticket anglers in the hope that they have a good day.  No matter how many fish I stock to make it as easy as possible at this time of year the fish are simply not feeding hard and require a little more thought if a successful day is to be had.  The water remains warm during the summer months, the same as every year, especially following a heatwave.  While the rain is certainly helping to keep the water fresh the air temperature throughout the day and night is much the same.  In these conditions the fish are more inclined to take through curiosity rather than feeding instinct.  Here is another tactic ... float an egg fly (small!) under an indicator ... inquisitive fish can’t resist taking a bite!

I have been spooning fish and sometimes there are small buzzers, often there is nothing, which is also not unusual for the time of year.  Lures & goldheads on heavyweight leaders are not going to catch these fish!

Please note that the fishery will be closed all day on Wednesday 16th August for maintenance and I apologise if this is inconvenient.  Anchor Lake will reopen on Thursday 17th August and we have a special guest arriving in the afternoon but you will have to come fishing to meet him! :-)

Nick

Keep up to date by visiting the Exe Valley Fishery Facebook Page

Exe Valley Fishery voted one of the Top 50 Stillwater Trout Fisheries in the UK

It looks like the work to improve Exe Valley Fishery and most notably Anchor Lake is paying off as the venue has just been voted as one of the Top 100 UK Stillwaters by the Trout Fisherman magazine.  In fact the fishery entered the top 50, reaching 42nd place, even better news, this year the water remains open to anglers after last year’s disastrous summer when I had to close.  There is no doubt that the cooler air and heavy rainfall have helped, but extensive work to clear weed has also assisted.

Exe Valley Fishery - Enters into the Top 50 Stillwater Trout Fisheries in the UK

Exe Valley Fishery - Enters into the Top 50 Stillwater Trout Fisheries in the UK

Just yesterday I was down teaching Robin “Cooky” Cook from Wales and he caught several fish on a mixture of Buzzers & Tequilla Blobs.  No need to pull them fast, just throw out and figure 8 slowly, using any wind present to help drift the flies. 

Cooky couldn’t believe the power of our fish, especially considering it is summer and says he will be making the journey across the border and heading South to enjoy some sessions at Exe Valley.  Today Cooky and I we were on the river (which was also noted in the TF blurb about the fishery) and he landed his first ever Grayling.  The River beat is only lightly fished and available on a separate permit although booking well in advance is essential.

"Cooky" with his first Grayling from the River Exe which flows past the fishery.  He also caught several fish the day before using Buzzers & Tequilla Blobs on Anchor Lake.

"Cooky" with his first Grayling from the River Exe which flows past the fishery.  He also caught several fish the day before using Buzzers & Tequilla Blobs on Anchor Lake.

Meanwhile John “The Snakeman” Clarke has been back in action on the lakes using his favourite pink snake fly to good effect, bagging 5 fish to 3lb 8oz and seemed very happy leaving the comment “Brilliant morning, credit to all the effort moving the weed”.   Johns mate ( John Slaven) also bagged 5 to 4lbs fishing Buzzers and said “After a long spell of DIY it is nice to be back and not disappointed

Apologies that this current report is going to be brief, I am very busy with tuition and have to get organised ready for the next visitors.  So in summary head to Exe Valley and move around the lake using Buzzers, Blobs, Dries and nymphs such as the Diawl Bach and chances are you will enjoy some good sport. 

Anchor Lake is closed on Monday 7th August for a junior fishing day - reopening as usual on Tuesday 8th August 2017

Anchor Lake is closed on Monday 7th August for a junior fishing day - reopening as usual on Tuesday 8th August 2017

Just before I sign off please note that ANCHOR LAKE WILL BE CLOSED ON MONDAY 7th AUGUST 2017 for a junior fishing day.  The fishery is open this weekend and will be again on Tuesday 8th Aug as normal.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you at one of the Top 50 stillwaters in the UK very soon!

Nick.

Keep up to date online here at the website and also on the Exe Valley Fishery Facebook page