"Voices From The Past: 1"

Avon Fishing Association: Brown Trout “Voices from the past”

In recent years virtually all brown trout caught on the Avon have been released. But anglers often remark on the relatively high number of undersized (less than eight inches) fish they catch. This page presents some information on the size of fish in the Avon.

It begins with extracts from letters written by experienced Avon anglers. Jack Notley and Cedric Potter provide historical perspective and practical advice; John Eve gives details of his catches between 1975 and 1990. I have inserted photos of some flies tied by Cedric to celebrate his skill as an innovative fly tyer.

The page also reproduces a report of a detailed survey of brown trout catches carried out in 1990-91. This gives a ‘feel’ for what to expect in terms of the proportion of takeable fish in an average bag (about 20%-25%).

The page concludes with a comparison of trout catches on the Avon with another local river.

Here are some further, personal, thoughts on the size of trout in Dartmoor rivers “Trout size: Let’s keep a sense of proportion”

In January 1984 Jack Notley wrote:

“I am in my 92nd year! I have fished the Avon for 85 consecutive years since 1899 when I was 6. The river has deteriorated terribly since then – the main two reasons being (1) the abstraction of water in 1925 (?) and (2) the influx of sea trout – they were practically unknown pre-1920 and there was no night fishing allowed. Best trout bag by Captain Vickers (the Brigadier’s father) 1467 in about 1910. My best bag 998 during the holidays about the same time. All trout over 8 inches. “

(Left) Reverend James Notley photographed outside Diptford Rectory in 1908. He founded the Avon Fishing Association in 1885
(Middle) His son, John “Jack” Notley in 1908
(Right) John “Jack” Notley photographed beside the Avon in 1981

In 1981 Cedric Potter wrote some notes on his 1980 season:

“The first noticeable rise of brownies was from early April to early May when the small Grannom sedge made in varying small numbers spasmodic hatches during the middle part of the day. A Halford’s dressing of this small sedge served me well and is a fly to remember for future seasons. I was given no early season opportunity to use my March Brown neither my mid-May Hawthorn flies as this much favoured fly was soon blown off the river by the high and very cold North-North West winds.

The good news is – for myself at least – that the small size 14 Spent Honey Tups has done me proud catching numerous Brown Trout and one one occasion taking three School Peel in one afternoon between 2pm and 4pm on the Loddiswell Station stretch of the river; one fish of 2lbs a day in the season to remember. And a fly to cherish.”

A selection of Cedric Potter’s flies

John Eve

John Eve kept detailed records of the brown trout he caught on the Avon between 1975 and 1990. During that period he fished the river 106 times. He caught 191 trout over 8 inches long. He returned 310 fish of less than eight inches. On average John caught just under five fish on each visit: about two fish over 8 inches and three fish below takeable length. About 38% of John’s catch was of takeable size. John was a skilled angler. He only had eight blank days in 15 years fishing the Avon. Here is a table showing his catches between 1975 and 1990.

Year Visits Number of fish over 8 inches long Number of fish less than 8 inches long Total catch per visit >8″ caught per visit <8″¬†caught per visit % total catch >8″
1975 3 1 10 3.7 0.3 3.3 9.1%
1976 8 15 13 3.5 1.9 1.6 53.6%
1977 3 0 8 2.7 0.0 2.7 0.0%
1978 7 11 30 5.9 1.6 4.3 26.8%
1979 7 9 16 3.6 1.3 2.3 36.0%
1980 8 16 46 7.8 2.0 5.8 25.8%
1981 7 14 16 4.3 2.0 2.3 46.7%
1982 16 61 46 6.7 3.8 2.9 57.0%
1983 10 39 59 9.8 3.9 5.9 39.8%
1984 5 5 15 4.0 1.0 3.0 25.0%
1985 5 14 25 7.8 2.8 5.0 35.9%
1986 6 2 4 1.0 0.3 0.7 33.3%
1987 3 0 2 0.7 0.0 0.7 0.0%
1988 6 2 12 2.3 0.3 2.0 14.3%
1989 6 0 6 1.0 0.0 1.0 0.0%
1990 6 2 2 0.7 0.3 0.3 50.0%
Totals 106 191 310 4.7 1.8 2.9 38.1%

In the late 1980s some members expressed concern about poor brown trout catches. In 1989 the committee asked anglers to record how many takeable fish (8 inches and over) they caught, as well as where and when they were caught. Twenty five anglers returned the survey form. Nine anglers had not fished during the year so the results are based on 133 visits to the river by 16 members.

The main findings were:

on average members caught 2.2 fish below 8 inches and 0.7 fish over 8 inches per visit (see Table 1 below)
fishing effort (number of visits) peaked in May (Table 2)
May was the most productive month – more takeable fish per visit in May (Table 4)
About 75% of trout were under 8 inches (Summary table)
The survey was repeated in 1990 with broadly similar findings (Summary table):
62% of the catch was under 8 inches
on average, anglers caught 0.9 fish over 8 inches, and 1.5 fish under 8 inches per visit
Here is an image of the original report and summary table.

Summary table of 1989 and 1990 surveys. Late returns – amounting to 50 extra visits – seem to have been added to the 1989 dataset.

Comparison of trout fishing on the Avon with another local river

The EA does not collect information on trout catches from licence holders.

And it is difficult to find quantitative data to compare trout fishing between Devon rivers.

I found one river – the Yeo near Crediton – that does publish useful information, and is similar to the Avon in angling effort: 37 anglers caught 530 trout in 2009.

This diagram shows the average annual catch of wild brown trout in the period 2000-2006.
About 70% of fish caught were below 8 inches.

Mike Weaver described the fishing on the Yeo as follows:

“The trout rarely exceed 14 inches but the average size is good with lots of 10 to 12 inch browns and on the right day you can expect to take over 20 fish. “

Crediton Fly Fishing Club http://www.fly-fishing-club.co.uk/

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