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Why fish the Tamar

The Tamar is one of the best salmon and sea trout rivers in the southwest of England, also producing some of the finest wild brown trout and grayling fishing in the region. The best of the Tamar salmon fishing - on the middle and lower reaches - features miles of classic fly water, with many beats catering largely for the fly angler.

While salmon are caught earlier in the season, the fishing is at its best from late summer onwards, with anglers' attentions turned to sea trout (known locally as 'peal') in high summer. These enigmatic fish provide excellent sport for night fly fishers - surely the pinnacle of westcountry fly fishing.

About the river

The River Tamar forms the county boundary between Devon and Cornwall, or, as the Cornish prefer, between Cornwall and England.

It flows in a roughly southerly direction from the source near the North Cornish coast, and enters the sea in Plymouth Sound, a distance of about 50 miles. Just upstream from Launceston the river receives its first major tributary, the Ottery, and over the next 4 miles grows considerably with waters from the Carey, Kensey, and then near Lifton, the Lyd. The Lyd contributes a good flow of clear water from Dartmoor, and then a few miles further down the Inny also contributes clear water, this coming from Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.

The lower Tamar valley was an area of massive mineral exploitation for many hundreds of years, making a fortune for the Dukes of Bedford, who had acquired both Woburn and Tavistock abbeys, courtesy of Henry VIII. This activity caused problems for the rich stocks of Tamar salmon but, as the mining faded in the early years of the 1900s, the Dukes righted their wrongs by building fish passes, croys, and the hatchery at Endsleigh, putting the Tamar firmly back on the map as a premier salmon fishery.

Lower Tamar Lake, not far from Bude, was formed during Victorian times to put water into the now-defunct Bude canal, which ran from the Atlantic ocean to within two miles of Launceston. Upper Tamar Lake was built in the 1970s as a reservoir for North Cornwall. Roadford reservoir, formed by damming the River Wolf near Lifton in the late 1980s, is used as a regulating reservoir from which water is released in low flows to supplement the river, and which is abstracted just above the tide at Gunnislake. This extra water is beneficial for the 'Roadford Corridor' on the Wolf, Thrushel and lower Lyd during summer droughts.

The lower Tamar at Gunnislake

Conservation measures

All the licensed nets on the Tamar estuary have been bought out for a trial period of 10 years, with significant funds raised by the Tamar and Tributaries Fishery Association (TTFA). The TTFA, which represents all the major fishery interests on the river, also has a voluntary code of restraint. There is a recommended 70% release rate for salmon and a strict bag limit of one fish per day. All coloured fish, and fish over 10lb should be released after September 1st. With the interceptory Irish drift nets also bought out, salmon now enjoy far less exploitation on the Tamar.

The Environment Agency has designated the Tamar as an 'index river' on which it carries out continuous monitoring of fish stocks. There is a fish trap at the top of the tide, situated on the fish pass at Gunnislake weir, which also has a fish counter. Smolt tagging has been undertaken for several years and regular fry and parr surveys are also carried out.

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