AFA History

The Devonshire River Avon 1880-1980 as described by Mr. J.B.S. “Jack” Notley in 1979

J.B.S. “Jack” Notley fished the River Avon for over 80 years. He was born in 1893 at Diptford Rectory. His father the Reverend James Notley was rector in the village. Jack went to Keble College, Oxford and fought in the Great War where he contacted trench fever. He was in 9 hospitals (3 in France) for 23 months during WW1 and was unable to follow his fathers profession as intended.

Jack began teaching fishing and fly casting on the Avon in 1919 and continued for over 50 years. Two of his first clients were Their Royal Highnesses Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught. The Prince was a grandson of Queen Victoria.

Jack Notley knew John James Hardy personally and through him he “got more pupils than I could deal with and had to turn some down”. John James and his brother William formed the tackle firm Hardy Brothers in 1873. In 1911 J.J. Hardy became World Champion Fly Caster with a a world record cast of 81 feet.

In 1979 he wrote an unpublished account of his experiences of the River Avon. In his introduction he commented:
“The Writer has fished the river for eighty consecutive years starting in 1899 when he caught his first trout, with a nurse beside him to prevent him falling in; he was six years old. He has tried to give a sort of history of the river and the activities of those connected with it as it affected the river. Some of the statements may be, although correct, in the wrong periods. Many stories of poachers have been omitted; in one case two were sent to Exeter for perjury.”

This page contains Jack Notley’s account and a map of water owned or rented by the Avon Fishing Association (AFA). Jack’s father founded the AFA in 1885 and was its first chairman. There may have been an older Avon Angling Association when the Avon Fishing Association was formed in 1885.

Season and Visitor Tickets are issued by the Avon Fishing Association Please see here for ticket outlets and membership application.

Period 1. around the year 1880

For this period I am referring to the book “Devonshire Trout Fishing” by Chas. A. Rabley. He was a schoolmaster and at the age of 14 commenced duties as a pupil teacher at St. Peter’s School, Plymouth. He left the town (now City) in July 1877 for a holiday at Ivybridge where he fished the River Erme. His parents went to reside at South Brent in 1880 and so he was able to fish the Avon. Everybody who possessed a rod turned out for “flood fishing”, as angling with a worm was then termed, and he and his two brothers often averaged 3 dozen each as “we lived near the river and always started fishing directly the water became tinged the right colour for worming”.

Two noted rods on the Avon in those days were Capt. Lovell and Mr. Bidmead. Mr. Rabley had several days with Mr. Bidmead, who seemed easily able to land from 4 to 6 dozen trout in a long days fishing.

Capt. Lovell was not so fond of moorfishing but preferred quality to quantity in the reaches below Brent Mill Bridge. Mr. Rabley left South Brent in 1881 for Exeter where he resided for 2 years and spent 6 weeks on the Avon during his summer holidays.

In his book he gives a list of flies he and others used, wet flies, as dry flies were not in fashion in those days.

March Brown, Half Stone, Blue Upright and Blue and Red Hares Ear, and Red Upright, Alder, Coch-y-Bondhu, Hawthorn and the Palmers.

All the above information I have obtained from his book and gladly acknowledge it.

Period 2 1881- 1885

My Father became Rector of Diptford in 1881, aged 27, he was a keen sportsman, shooting, fishing and hunting and won the Clinker Fours Cup (Rowing) at Cambridge University in 1876. After fishing the Avon for 4 or 5 years he decided that it would be of benefit to the river if an Association was formed, as there was a lot of poaching of salmon and many other ways of removing the trout;’ as by liming the water, netting pools and setting night lines, and so we come to the next period during which the Avon Fishing Association was formed.

Period 3 1885 – 1899

In 1885 my father contacted H.J.B. Turner of Bickham and H.L. Jenkins of Clannacombe, near Bantham, and the three of them got in touch with the riparian owners most of whom agreed to allow them to rent the fishing rights.
They then formed the Avon Fishing Association, whose first President was F.J. Cornish-Bowden of Blackhall Avonwick, and whose first Chairman was my father, the Rev. I.T.B. Notley of Diptford.

In 1891 the Brent-Kingsbridge Railway was completed and needless to say those working on it did some salmon poaching. Dynamite was used in some of the cuttings and this meant that some pools containing salmon were dynamited.

A good fishing pool, 400 yards below Diptford Manor House was spoilt and the river was unapproachable because of the new railway. The Association made the G.W.R. Company at their own expense build a concrete path beside the railway for the use of fishermen, it is still there.

As some of the river could not be approached because of the railway, members of the Association were permitted to walk on the railway at these places at their own risk without payment.

As the A.F.A was in existence before the railway was built, the latter could make no charge for any members fishing the river where the Railway wall touched the water.

I believe that the A.F.A Committee did pay the G.W.R for the right to fish this water through ignorance of the fact, but this occurred at a much later date when most of the original Committee had passed on.

Two hundred rainbow trout were put in the river but few, if any, were caught according to what my father told me.

Period 4 1899 – 1914

A memorable year for me as I caught my first fish, it was about 5 inches long and I had my photo taken holding it in my hand, I was sitting on top of one of the pillars of Diptford Schoolmaster’s house.

Such a lot of interest took place during these 15 years, it is difficult to know where to start.

Avon in floodIn January 1901 one of the biggest floods occurred in the Avon that ever took place. Brushford Bridge and the Manor Bridge at Diptford were washed away, the seats along the lower paths in the Rectory Wood also were washed out.

I spent many hours watching the river and saw sheep, poultry, fowls, coops etc. etc. coming down the river. The cottages at Brushford were awash; the road from Avonwick Station to Diptford was impassable, and the water was lapping the Railway line at Diptford.

The Secretary of the A.F.A was C.E. Turner, a Solicitor from Salcombe, he did not fish. Our Bailiff was Martin, who lived in an ivy covered bungalow at Hazelwood. He was very like Jimmy Edwards, and had huge moustaches.

The river was restocked every spring with 5″ to 6″ trout from the Exebridge hatcheries, they were brought down by train from Dulverton in milk churns and the G.W.R Company allowed the train to stop at different places between the stations so that churns could be taken out and the fish transferred to the river. Empty churns were picked up the same day from the same stopping places. The places I remember where the train stopped at Skellard Pool 500 yards below Diptford Manor House, Broadley, Topsham Bridge and Silveridge Bridge, including the Stations Avonwick, Gara Bridge, and Loddiswell. 1500 trout were the usual number purchased.

Trout fishing commenced on 2nd February and ended 30th September. Salmon fishing commenced in May (?) and ended 30th November. The chief run of salmon was in December and some of the fish were very large, I saw one weighed at Diptford Rectory, 41! lbs. It was poached at Bickham Bridge and the poacher was caught with it by the Bailiff, who took it to my father, who was Chairman both of the A.F.A and the Board of Conservators. A 381b Kelt was taken out of the leat at Gara Bridge and weighed on the Station scales, it was found dead and starting to decompose. Far more salmon ran up the Avon then than do now. Whilst my father was preaching one Sunday in April two local farmers removed eleven kelts from the Rectory pool, they had been there for several days waiting for a flood to take them down to the estuary.

The cost of season tickets was 2 pounds and we had 14 miles of water. Mr. Hare of Curtisknowle gave the Association his water from Broadley Farm to Bickham Bridge, this included the Stretchney water.

There was a famous salmon pool a quarter of a mile above Hatch Bridge where a Mr. Adams from Kingsbridge caught several salmon. It was called Target Pool. It is no longer there as when the bed of the river was altered it was spoilt, the old bed is still visible.

There were three famous anglers on the Avon in those days, General Eagles, Parson Eagles (Canon) and Commander F.H. Eagles R.N.. Parson Eagles was supposed to be the best fly-fisherman. Sea trout were practically unknown in those days consequently no fishing was allowed after an hour after sunset. There was no limit to the number of trout to be allowed to be taken but the size was 8 ins. or over. One day two members of the Committee saw me with 36 trout, and afterwards the Committee put on a limit of 18 per diem. Most of the trout I caught my father gave to sick or crippled villagers, none were wasted. On a good day to catch 18 over 8 ins. was not very difficult.

Martin retired as Bailiff and W. Stabb took his place in 1911 and lived at Hazelwood, he married the farmer’s daughter at Broadley Farm, he (the Bailiff) has passed on but his wife, now married again, lives at Ermington.

A Dr. Perkins and his friend Mr. Tozer, both from Teignmouth, used to come to Gara Bridge by train, reaching there at 4.30 p.m. and Dr. Perkins would often catch the 18 trout limit before supper, they stayed with Stabb at Hazelwood. Dr Perkins fished with dry fly, something quite new to me. Worm fishing was allowed in August.

Spinning was allowed 15th July till end of August in this period. It was decided to restock with smaller fish 3 ins. to 4 ins length. This was a mistake as the wild trout in the river turned cannibal.

Another season the Association found that very small trout were a gamble, as having put in 2000 a flood occurred next day and they were washed away to the sea.

It was decided that 5 ins. to 6 ins. size was the best bet.

Avon at Topsham BridgeThere were a large number of 6 ins. and 7 ins trout in the river and anglers had many to return to the water in a days fishing so it was decided to permit 7 ins fish to be killed for one season. This was a great mistake as the following season the 8 ins. and 9 ins. trout were missing! Experience often bitter, is the best teacher and the A.F.A certainly learnt a lot by trial and error. 5 wire dams or weirs were put in the river between Topsham Bridge and Silveredge Railway Bridge. I urged the Association not to do it as I felt the first big flood would destroy them. I was right and the remains can be seen to-day below Bedlime in the shape of iron posts in the river. The idea was to make pools, where there were long stretches: of shallow water. The weir at Silveredge a stone weir, had broken away and it was very difficult for salmon to get up into the pool above. Eventually Sir Charles Fryer, President of the Board of Fisheries and Agriculture in London came down to view the pool and weir, this was in April 1908. My father was Chairman and I was on holiday from school and was allowed to go down with the Committee, the following were present: H.J.B. Turner, Commander F.H. Eagles, B.F.T. Hare, A.J. Mitchell and probably others. Mr. Ellis from Aveton Gifford was there with his boat. The pool had several salmon in it awaiting a flood to get back to the sea. Ellis netted the pool but the first haul only produced one salmon, the second haul netted 51. These were weighed, measured and tagged in the dorsal fin and returned to the river. 5/- reward was offered to anyone who returned a label. None were returned, but two fish were found afterwards one an otter killed and one was found read.

Mr. Ellis was the owner of the salmon trap on the weir at the end of the A.F.A water. The Association and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture offered him 800 pounds. for it, but in spite of his usual statement that he caught very little, he refused to sell.

After Sir Charles Fryers visit to Silveredge a concrete weir and salmon ladder were constructed.

The statement about the five wire netting weirs or dams previously mentioned in this period should have been included in a later period, probably the period 6, 1918-1937.

Period 5 1914 -1918

This was the War period and I don’t think any restocking was done. Officers from the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth were allowed to fish without A.F.A tickets. In spite of the well stocked river they did not have much luck, and the standing joke at Dartmouth was that there were no sizeable fish in the Avon.

A rule was passed that Season Ticket holders could only fish 3 days during the week.

Both worm fishing and spinning were prohibited but I am not sure in what period this should be placed, but certainly not after 1930.

Salmon poaching was rife all through the river, chiefly the kelts and these were sold mainly to farmers at 4 pence per Ib and called Red Hake!

Mr. Beer of Kingsbridge, a Solicitor took over from C. E. Turner as Secretary of the Association later his son Capt. Beer took over from him.

During this period sea trout were still conspicuous by their absence, a very few did come into the lower reaches and a few small ones ran up to Brent but as fishing ended one hour after sunset no one fished for them.

It was either at the beginning of this period or more probably during the previous period 1899-1914 that my father noticed from his bedroom window whilst dressing that the river was coming down “white”. He immediately contacted Mr. Turner of Bickham and they followed the course of the river up to Dartmoor where some china clay washings were being turned into the river. This was Duchy property. My Father and Mr. Turner informed the Company that they would sue the Duchy for damages, so the Company turned the washings into the River Erme, and the Avon became clear and unpolluted again.

As the writer of this report on the river is 87 his memory is not too good, and some of the statements though true, may be in the wrong period.

Period 6 1918 – 1937

My Father left Diptford in 1917 and gave up the Chairmanship of the A.F.A., Major G.M. Conran of Diptford was elected to that post. In 1919 I turned professional teacher of Fly Casting and Fly fishing and left Diptford and lived part of the summer on the Conway in N. Wales and part on the Avon. During this period the limit was reduced to 12 over 8 ins except above Brent Bridge. General Dalby took over the Chairmanship for a year and was followed by General Armstrong. The annual restocking was not carried out regularly as it had been in my father’s day as Chairman.

Sea trout increased and eventually night fishing was allowed. Sunday fishing was also permitted, I think this came at the end of this period or possibly during the next period.

Part of one of the feeders to the river was piped from Dartmoor to Kingsbridge and Salcombe in spite of the objection from the A.F.A. I represented them when an official came down and the A.F.A got 500 pounds compensation. This abstraction of water (it was in about 1925) made a big difference to the river as the pools began to silt up and the runs were shallower, this gave the herons more scope in removing the trout.

F.J. Cornish-Bowden of Blackhall had passed on and Colonel Wise of Loddiswell was now the President of the A.F.A.

The cost of tickets rose from the original 2 pounds to 3 pounds, then to 5 pounds etc. as the A.F.A had to pay more rent to the riparian owners.

Period 7 1937 – 1940

I fished the Avon continuously during this period.

Sea Trout were now running the river in fair numbers, the larger ones up to 7 or 8 lbs coming into the lower reaches the end of April and May followed by the “School” fish later in the season.

The pools were still silting up and the Beech Tree Pool on the Curtisknowle private water where Mr Hare caught a 13 1/2 lb salmon on the fly in 1908 had now only a depth of about 1 foot. The number of Season Tickets had been increased from 30 to 50 and there was a waiting list. Poaching was rife as usual as regards Kelts. Not so many salmon were coming up and they were definitely not so large as previously and as before the main run was in December. As the A.F.A had altered the season for fishing for salmon to end on 30th September very few, if any were caught. This was altered later much later in about 1960 to the 31st October and later to 30th Nov. The previous date of 30th Sept. was fixed because one year a small run of fish came into the river in June and were seen in the pools, fish around 5 to 7 lbs, I saw some lying above Silveredge Railway Bridge.

Period 8 1940-1945

This was the War period and not much fishing was done; no restocking, no bush cutting and the river was rather neglected. I was partially incapacitated with knee trouble which after four years was put right by an operation in a London Hospital. I still kept in touch with the Committee of the A.F.A though I was living in Somerset for most of this period

Period 9 1945-1980

I was now living in the Totnes district and fished the Avon regularly during these 35 years. We had a new Chairman, General T.H. Jameson, C.B.E., D.S.O. without doubt the best Chairman the Association ever had. On more than one occasion he motored to Exeter to meet the River Board Authorities re the Avon and paid all the expenses out of his own pocket.

He was very popular with everyone and greatly missed when he retired.

Salmon came up as usual very late in the season – in Cornwall the River Fowey anglers were allowed to fish for salmon up to the 15th December and according to the statistics more salmon were caught in the last fortnight than during the rest of the season.

Sea trout were increasing in numbers and the Trout fishing was deteriorating each season, chiefly owing to the influx of the Sea Trout which spawned on the same beds as the trout, but unfortunately after the latter had spawned, and so most of the trout ova was disturbed and floated away, to be devoured by other fish etc.

The Avon Dam was formed that lessened the supply of water to the river and increased the silting up of the pools.

The influx of Sea Trout and the abstraction of water from the river at source were the two main reasons for the deterioration of the Trout fishing.

Let me give you proof of this. About 1912 Capt.J.C.Vickers (who was Brigadier J.S.Vicker’s Father) killed 1467 trout over 8 ins. chiefly in the Diptford district. The annual returns of fish caught by all members of the A.F.A in the 1970s were around the 500 mark. The limit was reduced to 9 trout over 8 ins.

Kingsbridge District Council applied for the abstraction of more water from the Avon sources in order to have enough water for the visitors. The A.F.A rightly refused to comply with this and a Minister came down from the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture and held a court at Kingsbridge to go into the matter. I represented the A.F.A. The Minister was very interested in the Migratory fish and asked me if there would be any effect on their spawning beds. I informed him that if he granted permission for the abstraction of more water there would be no need of spawning beds as there would not be enough water in the river for migratory fish to get up to spawn and that the pools would become stagnant and foul in a long drought period and the trout would probably die also the fact that as it was a common practice for the village youths to bathe in the deeper pools on a fine Sunday afternoon in the summer, they would run the risk of getting typhoid.

The A.F.A heard from the Minister a few days later that the request from the Kingsbridge Council had been refused.

All through these 35 years the Trout fishing was deteriorating and the Sea Trout fishing improving. Those living in the Kingsbridge district who had easy access to the river were the chief beneficiaries.

Brigadier J.C.Vickers C.B.E D.S.O. now became our Chairman after General Jameson C.B.E.,D.S.0. retired and our Committee consisted chiefly of men who fished for sea trout and the odd salmon, but were not so interested in the trout fishing, because it had deteriorated so much. Several thousand pounds were spent in purchasing some water the lower end, where sea trout were chiefly caught. This money, or only a small part could have restocked the river with trout, The object seems to be to study the migratory fish anglers to the detriment of the trout anglers. The Avon never was, nor never will be a salmon river. There is not enough deep water and the river is silting up more every year and the future is not looking very bright.
The S.W.W.A are studying their reservoirs far more than the rivers, as they get a far better return from anglers there than from the Licences for river fishermen. They restock some of the reservoirs many times during the season but they leave the restocking of the rivers to riparian owners or angling Associations.

The run of elvers has nearly ceased – in the 1900’s the river was full of eels, mostly of the bootlace size but some up to 2lbs, They were so prevalent that eel traps (wire cages) were placed in various parts of the river, of late years very few eels are showing in the pools and they are obviously not in the river – the reason I do not know.

Capt. Beer had resigned as Secretary through ill health and Mr. L.J.Hill had taken over his duties and still most efficiently carries them out.

Period 10 Reminiscences

And so ends the Centenary of the Devonshire Avon. It started with plenty of fish and water from natural sources which formed the river and unfortunately ended with a very much reduced supply of water.

All this proves that it is wrong to interfere with nature to curtail the natural water supply by abstraction which if carried too far, ruins the river not only from a fishing point of view but also from irrigation of the adjoining land and the rivers occupants.

The otter population is now down to 3 or 4 whereas it used to be very much more and even in daylight one occasionally saw the cubs with their mother.

In those far off days in the 1900’s and 1920’s the otter hounds found many, but killed very few, and now in the 1970’s with no trapping with spring traps (gins) permitted the otter population has steadily decreased.

The answer to all this is DO NOT INTERFERE WITH NATURE.

The rabbits were poisoned, consequently foxes and birds of prey were forced to kill game birds and local poultry in order to exist. Water was abstracted from the rivers which partially ruined them. Tar macadam on the roads was blamed, I don’t agree, as we never found poisoned fish in the Avon.

U.D.N did a lot of damage to the migratory fish but not so much to the trout, I only found a few with U.D.N.

Mink unfortunately found their way into the river and were seen with trout in their mouths and also seen catching a Mallard on her nest at Hazelwood.

Salmon poaching still went on and here are one or two tales concerning the illegal taking of salmon. In these cases I know the names of all concerned but will not mention them.

(1) The Bailiff was a bit suspicious of a Brent man whom he met coming away from the river, he was walking in an awkward manner so he went up to him and put his hand on his coat and a salmon’s head appeared below his trouser leg – he was carrying the fish in one of his trouser legs!

(2) The Bailiff had spotted 3 salmon in Bickham Bridge Pool and knowing the Diptford lads were well known poachers kept a watch on these fish during the weekend. Having left the river in the late evening of Saturday he went to his home on the main road near Avonwick. Just before retiring he noticed a boy cycling up and down the road past his house.
He went up to his bedroom and saw the boy looking up, so he took off his coat and waist coat as though retiring, he then saw the boy jump on his cycle and pedal away as fast as he could towards Diptford and then the penny dropped. The Bailiff quickly put on his coat and got on his bicycle and rode off to Bickham Bridge via North Huish, missing out Diptford. He arrived just in time to catch three Diptford youths with the salmon they had taken out of the pool. He knew them and on the Monday morning he went to their home and found that they had caught the first train to Devonport where they had joined the Navy!

Our latest President is Capt. W. Peek of Hazelwood who has, though he does not fish, taken a very great interest in the A.F.A attending meetings in all weathers and for a great many years his family have permitted members to fish the Hazelwood water free of all cost and the water covers a long distance from Gara Bridge down to Silveredge.

Both Martin and Stabb covered long periods as Bailiffs, the latter over 40 years, after his retirement the S.W.W.A appointed their own Bailiffs and we had 2 or 3 retired Police Sergeants to police the river with a view to seeing that there was no poaching and that anglers had River Board Licences, and as to whether they had Association tickets was not in their province.

The S.W.W.A promised to keep the rivers free from obstructions e.g. fallen trees etc. but as regards the Avon this promise was not kept and the A.F.A had, at their own expense, to deal with it. Tar macadam from the roads and artificials being washed into the river from the farms are blamed by some for the shortage of trout compared with the numbers there were in the river in the distant past. This is not so, as if it were the case surely many dead trout would be found.

The two main reasons are as previously stated 1. The influx of sea trout and 2. The abstraction of water from the source and from the feeders. The Source being the Avon Dam.

The Writer has witnessed with much sadness a lovely unpolluted stream with a good head of trout and a fair run of winter salmon, plenty of eels in the summer and with otters, kingfishers etc. degenerate into a stream with pools silted up, a small flow of water, except in flood time, a very small head of trout, otters conspicuous by their absence, ditto eels, and the future does not look very bright but the Writer is very grateful to this lovely river for some of the happiest days of his life, especially when he and his father used to fish together in the pre 1914 days.

Unpublished manuscript dated June 1979 written by Mr. J.B.S. NOTLEY.

How old is the Avon Fishing Association?

The Amwell Magna Fishery – established in 1841 – is said to be the oldest fly fishing club in the UK. This section explores the roots of the Avon Fishing Association which is thought to have been formed in 1885.

In 1979 Mr J.B.S. Notley wrote about his experiences on the river Avon. He stated:
“In 1885 my father contacted H.J.B. Turner of Bickham and H.L. Jenkins of Clannacombe, near Bantham, and the three of them got in touch with the riparian owners most of whom agreed to allow them to rent the fishing rights. They then formed the Avon Fishing Association, whose first President was F.J. Cornish-Bowden of Blackhall Avonwick, and whose first Chairman was my father, the Rev. I.T.B. Notley of Diptford.”

But there may have been an earlier association on the Avon. In Totnes on 1st December 1860 the Royal Commission on Salmon Fisheries (England and Wales) heard evidence about the state of salmon stocks and fishing methods on the Devonshire River Avon. I am gateful to Gordon Bielby for sending me a copy of the Minutes of this Royal Commission. Two witnesses referred to an angling association on the river in 1860. Relevant parts of their testimony are reproduced below.

LeisterThe first witness, Rev. H. Hare lived “on the banks of the Avon”, had “more than a mile of the river boundary” and was “perfectly acquainted with the whole of the Avon”

In reply to the question “Is there any poaching on the river?”, The Rev. H. Hare stated (minute 15,123) “The moment the floods go back, and the river gets clear, it is infested by spearers from one end to the other; but no one interferes. I should mention that there is a private association of gentlemen who protect the river for angling; but I am told that when a man is detected by the keeper, he can do nothing, there being no public prosecutor. He is told, you can do nothing unless the landowner chooses to prosecute.” (italics added)

Rev. Hare was asked “Will not the landowners co-operate?”. He replied (minute 15,124) “It is a very unpleasant thing to do, and nobody does it. I have more than a mile of the river boundary, but I have never done anything of the sort. I do not fish myself, but I wish to see it preserved. Salmon spearing will never be prevented, unless the police or some public officers are authorized to take any man who is found poaching before the magistrates, and get him fined. I would be glad to do it, if others would co-operate with me; but one does not like to put oneself forward, and incurr all the expenses and odium of prosecuting. On Sunday at his time of year, in the course of three or four miles, you may meet with 10 or 20 fellows spearing salmon.

The witness was asked “Are many members of he association landowners?” to which he replied (minute 15,125) “Not many; the association is more for trout.

The next witness – Mr. Thomas Harris – describes himself as the honorary secretary of the fishing association.
He was asked by Sr William Jardine who chaired the Royal Commission “Are you acquainted with the river Avon?”. Mr. Harris replied “Yes, I am honorary secretary to an association for fishing in the Avon; we fish from the weir that Mr. Ellis (a previous witness) speaks of, some seven or eight miles up the river or trout, and we would catch salmon if we had a chance. I belive four were caught last year by men who were fortunate enough to fall in with them.”

avon at Marsh weirThis witness then goes on to argue that the close season for salmon which was from 15th January to 6th May was unsatisfactory because he had bought fish up to the 15th January that were full of spawn and quite unfit to eat. He comments “It has been said by a member of the medical profession that nothing can be more prejudicial to health than the fish sold from the Avon after the month of November”. He goes on to complain that “The weir at Marsh mills has been raised very considerably long since I can remember; it has been raised to so as to keep the water running down to the mill dam…” it is quite impossible, except in high flood, for fish to get over the weir.” He then remarks that “20 years ago we used to take salmon peal (sea trout) above the weir, and now we never see such a thing, and that I attribute to the weir having been raised. The fish spawn below the weir because they cannot get up, I have seen them there repeatedly.” (Italics added).

In addition Grimble (The Salmon Rivers of England and Wales, Chapter 8, page 51, 2nd Ed.) wrote:
“In 1866 a Board of Conservators was formed, in which the Erme proprietors did not join. This Board was in addition to a local Angling Association already formed, and, combining together, they attacked the poaching evil with such vigour that prosecutions and convictions were so plentiful that at length the wrongdoers desisted, when they found that they could no longer carry on the industry with impunity.”

three reliable sources (Rev. Hare, Harris and Grimble) state that a fishing association existed on the Avon before 1885
the latest possible date for the formation of this association is 1860 – the year the Royal Commission interviewed Hare and Harris in Totnes
the association was not simply a collection of landowners; Rev. Hare stated that not many members were landowners
the association was well organised – Mr. Thomas Harris was the honorary secretary.
the association fished on a considerable length of water – “seven or eight miles”
association members fished mainly for trout
an association might have existed as early as 1840 because of the word “we” in Mr. Harris’ comment “20 years ago we used to take salmon peal (sea trout) above the weir”. Was he referring to the association or people who later formed the association? I have no evidence to settle this question.
I don’t know what relationship – if any – there was between Mr. Harris’ association and the Avon Fishing Association founded by Rev. Notley, Turner and Jenkins in 1885. They may have used the word ‘fishing’ to distinguish a new association from an already existing Avon Angling Association when the Avon Fishing Association was formed in 1885.

Written by Paul Kenyon

Further articles on the Devonshire River Avon

Scroll to Top