The big fish in local rivers have been held back and hurt by the summer drought to the point where it would be irresponsible to take any at all, according to village expert Robin Armstrong.
At this time of year, local river watchers are usually reporting sightings of salmon and peal (sea-going trout) going up over Horrabridge weir.
Robin doubts many of them have had enough oxygen for long enough for that kind of jump.
He was a young river warden for the old South West Water Authority during the drought of 1976 and says this summer’s dry spell took the rivers down to levels he has not seen since then.
The 1976 drought continued until the end of August, whereas this month this year brought some earlier relief. But not enough to create the spate conditions in which fish want to run for their breeding grounds in the high waters of Walkham, Tavy, Tamar and Dart.
Robin mainly fishes at sea nowadays but still deals in fly tackle, as well as pictures, from a stall in Tavi Market on a Tuesday and keeps in touch with the gossip from the rivers.
“You can get a thousand opinions on where the fish are lying right now,” he said on Wednesday this week. “They might advance in a semi-spate and then drop back to where they are more comfortable when the water drops quickly. Some will still be in the estuaries; some still waiting in the sea, where they get caught in commercial fishing nets; some in languid pools where the conditions are absolutely perfect for funguses, which will mean they are damaged and weak if they do eventually get to the redds and secondary infections set in. That is what happened in 1976.
“In the old days, the poachers would have been queuing up at Grenofen Pool.
“But most poachers for the pot are retired now and the main threat to the fish in the rivers is angling.
“With environment agency rules and club rules on top, it is hard to find a salmon you can legally take home nowadays. But right now it would just be wrong anyway.
“It is a hard thing to do, to give up a hunting prize. But I learned to do it. You don’t really need it for food, let’s face it. And once you have made yourself treat a fish carefully enough to simply unhook it and let it slip back into the water, it becomes the natural thing to do. That is the pattern for salmon fishing in most of the world nowadays.
“In the old days, if you had a bad year, stocks would have been replenished with parr reared in pens. We used to take hens and cocks from the Lyd, just below Lifton, and milk them and grow the fry. But there are concerns about artificial meddling and it is not much done any more, certainly not round here, although I never saw that it did much harm. Stocks will recover but it will take a year or two.
“If you just want a day out, I would recommend buying a £10 ticket for trout from the Duchy of Cornwall and going out for brown trout on the high moors. The brownies live locally and they are okay. And you won’t get better sport.”
On the Tavy, Walkham & Plym, all trout, including sea trout, are still legally fair game, with the right permits and kit, and subject to rules against taking hen fish or small fish, up to September 30, and salmon fishing on the TWP network is open until October 14. The Dart network is closed from the end of September.
The Plym and its tributaries, Meavy and Cad, are open to salmon fishermen until December 17, because they are home to a different strain of fish, which come into the river much later, and there is still a chance they will have a good run this year, although they are vulnerable to pollution incidents from the mining and quarrying quarter of the moor and the need to refill Burrator Reservoir means the Meavy is likely to stay quite low for some while yet.
The Westcountry Rivers Trust, the organisation which nowadays oversees fish protection, is still collecting figures from its sampling points and we should be able to report those in a couple of weeks.
* Robin Armstrong, born 1947, is author of an illustrated memoir of the Walkham valley, The Painted Stream, which launched him on a career as an artist, especially of wildlife. He still paints, at his studio at Sortridge, and sells and gives tuition through Wildwood Arts of Horrabridge. Call 01822 859165 or email email@example.com
See his picture gallery at www.robinarmstrong.co.uk
Robin Armstrong, by Andrew Pain
PS: Also of interest: The Dart Angling Association has made a deal with the Duchy of Cornwall and it is now possible to buy tickets which cover all their waters, including some stretches below Dartmeet.