The River Camel

By Jon Evans
Originally published in the Guide to Angling in South West England 2005.

Jon Evans is Secretary of the Camel Fisheries Association

The River Camel rises on Bodmin Moor and reaches the sea about thirty miles later at Padstow on the North Cornwall coast. The Camel has been fished for salmon and sea trout for centuries and the first royal charter was granted in1199. Records show that in 1750 rights were available on payment of a fee to the Duke of Cornwall to take salmon by use of barbed spears. Needless to say, these rights have now been revoked.

There are four main tributaries, the Allen, the Ruthern, the de Lank and the Stannon and these provide wonderful nursery and spawning water. There are also countless small streams offering safe havens for sea trout and occasionally salmon. The Bodmin Anglers Association has worked extremely hard over the years to ensure that the upper reaches of this beautiful river are largely designated as sanctuary areas which should not be fished.

The Camel has a reputation for good runs of both species but things are not what they were. Even so, during the 2003 season, there were more than twice as many salmon caught on the Camel as any other river in the South West. There was also an excellent run of sea trout. In 2002, a salmon of 25lb was taken at Boscarne and this year, a 19lb hen fish was donated to the hatchery. There are about twelve miles of fishable water and most is in the hands of the two main clubs, the Bodmin Anglers Association and the Wadebridge and District Angling Association. There are also a number of private riparians and a few private fisheries. The whole river and many of the tributaries are designated as a SSSI and cSAC with the Atlantic Salmon and the Otter the two principal species; and the anglers welcome both.

The Camel Fisheries Association has been formed by the clubs and the private riparians to try to ensure, with the Environment Agency and English Nature, that the river stays in good heart, and provides a self sustaining environment, with a range of habitats, as well as excellent sport for the anglers. Most of the Camel runs through wooded valleys and farmland and this conditions the ways in which the river can be fished. Below Polbrock, the river is tidal and can be fished as far downstream as Wadebridge. Below this, you need a boat or an interest in fly fishing for Bass.

Most people fish the river with a spinner or worm, although both clubs have beats which are suitable for fly fishing and many sea trout are taken at night. There are also a number of salmon taken on fly on one of the private fisheries and on the tidal water where the trees have thinned out.

The season opens on May 1. This began many years ago so that kelts were not caught during the early weeks. A few spring fish are taken in May and June but the real sport at this time of year is with the early sea trout. Most seasons, one or two fish of eight or nine pounds, as well as a number in the 4lb class, will be caught in late May or June either on a worm or fly at night.

The main run of sea trout, school peal, will come in early July, but there will always be a number of good peal mixed in with the smaller fish of three quarters to a pound. There is a voluntary agreement that all peal will be returned after the end of August for conservation reasons. The salmon run tends to get under way in late August or September. Grilse around the five pound mark start to come off the tidal water and if there is rain, they push on up through the lower stretches to Tresarrett and beyond. The best of the season, and the bigger fish, comes in October and the season ends on December 15. Throughout the winter months, fish of any size from a 4lb grilse to a 25lb. multi sea winter fish can be taken.

The Camel Fisheries Association runs a salmon restocking programme. This was started five years ago by the Secretary and another member of the Bodmin club who built a hatchery on the Clerkenwater Stream. Since 2003, the Wainsford hatchery on the River Fowey has provided the support for the Camel as well as the Fowey. In 2004, we returned 45,000 fry to the river. We are limited to 50,000 fry by the agreement with the Environment Agency and English Nature and expect to reach this during the 2004/5 season. The catch and release rates for both salmon and sea trout are rising each year, and although the river is currently reaching its spawning target there is a lot of local effort to ensure that we do not endanger the future of our sport. We have concentrated on habitat improvement and the restocking programme and hope to use genetic markers to allow us to demonstrate the success of our work.

We have also used the evidence from the broodstock programme to try to change some angling practices. Everyone will be aware of the danger of using treble hooks on spinning lures and each year we have a few fish damaged by these very large hooks. Of more significance is the work we have done on worming hooks. We have found that the traditional way of simply cutting the line when the fish is gut hooked in the belief that the fish will come to no harm and go on and spawn naturally is not the case. In 2003, all our deep hooked fish in the hatchery died before they could be stripped. We no longer take gut hooked fish for the hatchery and are trying to persuade anglers that the circle hooks which have been used by long line fishermen for years are effective for salmon. So far this year, the anglers using circle hooks have not lost a fish and the fish usually hook themselves in the scissors or the lip. Additionally, the eye of the hook is outside the mouth and this makes unhooking very easy.

These exciting programmes have re-energised our clubs and changed attitudes to conservation. Our efforts have added to the enjoyment of fishing this lovely river.