The fishing season for salmon opened on 1st March, with the brown trout fishing starting a fortnight later.
Throughout its length our local river, the Torridge, flows through the rolling farmland of North Devon. Its source is close to the coast near the Cornish border, and then it swings in a great arc before flowing into the estuary that it shares with the Taw.
The middle and lower reaches are best known for their salmon and sea trout, but can offer surprisingly good trout fishing. The upper reaches and its tributaries, the Waldon and Lew, offer plenty of opportunities for brown trout fishing.
The Torridge has always been famous for its early run of salmon and in some years fresh salmon will be caught in the river either side of Sheepwash Bridge in the first few days of the season. These fish, often weighing 10lbs or more, will have left the estuary in the late winter and travelled the thirty miles or more upstream in less than a month. Although these fish enter freshwater in the late winter they will not spawn in the headwaters until late November or early December. Once in the river they do not feed at all but live entirely off their body fat built up while at sea.
A salmon having settled in one of the deep holding pools at Sheepwash will probably stay there for several months before moving into the headwaters to spawn. In contrast, other salmon will not leave the estuary until October/November, and will spawn within two or three weeks. After spawning, most of the salmon die, but a few will survive, drop back to sea to recover, and then come back the following year to do it all again.
A Torridge salmon will not enter any other river. Indeed, there is growing evidence that it will return to the tributary of its birth – a salmon hatched in the Lew will return there to spawn, rather than to the Torridge or Waldon.
Each hen salmon will produce about seven thousand eggs, but only a tiny fraction will survive and hatch as alevins three months later. In an effort to increase the survival rate, the Torridge Fishery Association has its own hatchery at Monkokehampton.
This year four hen salmon were stripped and their twenty-eight thousand eggs were fertilised by five cock fish. The survival rate has been excellent, and by mid-April over twenty-seven thousand salmon fry will have been stocked out into small tributaries in the headwaters in the hope that in four years time a few of them may return as adult salmon.
April 2012 (Spring issue)