Big flounder fishing in the Teign Estuary

Roy Repton has lived and fished in Teignmouth for 22 years. He specializes in catching big flounders and has taken three over 4lb (1.8kg) – his biggest weighing in at 4lb 4 1/2 oz (2.06kg).

Motoring out towards Shaldon

Motoring out towards Shaldon to set up a spooning course. Roy knows the flounder hotspots but needs to find a suitable flow and clear water for efficient spooning.

How to get there

map and directions for Teign Estuary By car follow the M5 south to its last exit 31. Take the A38 then branch off on to the A380. Then you can either turn on to the B3192 which takes you into Teignmouth, or continue on the A380 towards Kingsteignton then take a left turn and follow the A381 to Teignmouth. There is a car park overlooking the river near the harbour.

By train The nearest BR station is Teignmouth.

Spoon rig Spoon rig

clip_image008 With this kind of fishing you don’t need to change the peeler very often. As long as it’s in good condition it lasts a while on the hook. Roy only winds in when he catches a fish or if the rod tips stop nodding – which normally indicates a snag-up or weed on the line. ‘You can’t do this in summer. There’s too much weed.’ Roy baits the hook with juicy peeler meat and finishes off with a small piece of crab leg on the tip of the hook . This is a tough morsel which secures the bait on the hook.

As Roy rows in front of The Salty, his spoons work underwater and his rod tips start to nod.

Roy is a top flounder angler from both shore and boat. On this particular session fishing with spoons proved an effective method. Spooning is an underused technique which can really catch flounders if you do it

properly. However, it’s no good just dragging a spoon behind a rowed boat. You need experience to control the action of the spoons underwater and a good knowledge of the river if you are to locate fish in suitable areas.

The Teign is the best river for big flounders in the country – the record shore-caught flounder was taken from it. To get at its big flatties it’s handy if you have your own craft or at least access to a friend’s boat from time to time. There are plenty of superb shore marks along the river where you can tap in to very big flounders. • You can hire boats from Teignmouth Ferry Beach (enquire locally for information) but normally only in the summer.

The fine specimen is netted before it has time to flap around on the surface. Note the big spoon blade -static now but irresistibly active in the water.

Sheltered by a cargo vessel, Roy tinkers with the outboard which is playing up a little. The motor is a vital piece of equipment -it’s tiring enough rowing the boat to fish the spoons without having to use arm power to reset a drift.

Back on the beach Roy displays the 2 1/2 lb (1.1kg) flounder – his first fish of the day. It’s a meaty, splendidly marked fish but not quite the three pounder (1.4kg) he was after.

Poised like an uncoiling discus thrower, Roy unhooks the glistening white flatty. It’s another big flounder – the sort of fish that is a rare capture on many rivers.

flounder fishing in the Teign Estuary Heading upriver with the spoons working behind the boat. As Roy rows he keeps an eye on the regular rhythm of the rod tips. His net is close by, ready for action. flounder fishing in the Teign Estuary A touch of net assistance for this fish, which succumbed to the big spoon’s charms. Most of Roy’s fish were taken on the large spoon, although he had bites on both rods during the session.flounder fishing in the Teign Estuaryflounder fishing in the Teign EstuaryHe has many prestigious angling competition wins to his credit, including the 1992 RNLI Christmas Competition, Dartmouth Fishing Festival, Cormorant Open, TSW Competition, Teignmouth Festival and Teignmouth Hospital Open.

clip_image018 As the light dies over the estuary, Roy steers downriver towards the road bridge. River Teign flounders The final haul of big River Teign flounders in all its fresh Devonian splendour.

We leave the car park and walk down to the harbour area, where Roy’s Orkney Longliner is moored. The tide is on its way in but high tide is not due for another five hours yet — at about 2:00pm. ‘The wind is a light south-easterly but a westerly gale is threatened for later on, which means a blow right down the river – and that’s not ideal,’ Roy says.

He carries an outboard motor, rods, bait and oars to the boat. Then he notices something is missing- rowlocks! This calls for a quick dash back home, for you can’t do without your rowlocks in this game.

A van turns into the car park facing the Ness – a high, red headland marking the exit of the River Teign into Babbacombe Bay. There are few people about at this early hour so there’s a good chance the driver is the man we are waiting for. Bold lettering on the side of the vehicle confirms it — Roy Repton, Painter and Decorator. Roy’s well known in the area for his nifty anaglyptery and his talent with magnolia and vinyl silk, but this morning he’s left his paintbrushes at home and brought his spoons along instead. The converted bits of cutlery in his bag are essential tools for his other occupation — master flounderman.

Roy emerges from the van seemingly sprightly and gets his gear together. He takes a black bucket out of the van containing about 50 peeler crabs which he collected from the nearby River Exe, where he gets most of his crabs.

Directly upriver a road bridge crosses to Shaldon. Between the beach and the bridge there’s a large sandbank known as The Salty. About a dozen cormorants, some with wings spread out to dry, are using this island as a base. To the right large commercial ships are docked.

Before you know it Roy has returned with the vital articles and he’s setting up his two rods. One is a 9ft (2.7m) Ryobi with a 2lb (0.9kg) test curve and the other an 8ft (2.4m) Abu.

His two multipliers are filled with 15lb (6.8kg) line. He attaches his chosen weapons — spoons. Both are converted kitchen spoons, designed to give an action in the water which is highly attractive to docks flounder. Old spoons are best as they are made out of heavier metal than modern varieties. One of Roy’s spoons is a big serving spoon minus the handle. Roy’s second spoon is smaller — a mere dessert spoon — but works on the same principle of a blade revolving around a wire stem.

We push the heavy boat down to the water. Roy engages the outboard and steers a diagonal course out into the river. The plan is to set the boat on a drift moving with the flooding tide upriver, but rowing to keep the boat just ahead of the current.

As soon as he thinks he has gone far enough towards the Shaldon bank, Roy turns the boat around and cuts the engine; he likes the look of it here – the water is pretty clear and the current seems just about right. Out come the peeler crabs and Roy quickly sets about preparing one for the hook. When both spoons are baited with fresh crab, he lowers them off the back of the boat. When he’s satisfied they’re far enough out and near the bottom, he begins rowing.

Roy pulls on the oars just a little faster than the tide, enabling him to fish the spoons with a regular action underwater. He can tell when both rods are fishing effectively because the rod tips wag up and down steadily – like nodding donkeys. To maintain the regular nod, Roy alters the strength of his rowing, pulling harder or softer as necessary to control speed. ‘A bite! No he’s gone,’ says Roy, spotting a tentative quiver on one of the rods. He continues rowing and the rod tips bounce evenly. Then one of them trembles again. ‘Go on you swine. He’s just touching it, it’s probably a little one. Big fish usually just take it.’

A few seconds later the other rod tip shudders briefly. ‘Just leave the rod when it does that. If the fish takes properly you’ll know about it – the rod goes right over.’ So he leaves the rod alone and it arches. Immediately Roy whips the oars in and grabs the rod. The fish is on and feels weighty. Roy doesn’t waste time bringing it in, although the flatty tugs and flaps to avoid being dragged out. The fish is quickly netted. It’s a handsome specimen of around 2 ½ lb (1.1kg) – all mottled chocolate-brown and coffee coloured.

This is a superb fish by any standards but Roy’s hoping for better. ‘If we get one about 3lb (1.4kg) it will be OK,’ he says.

Three fish in two drifts is good going, so Roy tries again.’ I’ll try farther round the docks later but I think flounder like to stay in groups. If you get one you may get more. When they’re really feeding it can be hectic.’ A third drift produces nothing however, but when Roy winds in to check a spoon following a decent bite, a flounder follows right up to the surface. They’re obviously still there and can see the spoons all right in the water.

A few more drifts result in several nibbles but no real takers.

The Salty is fast disappearing as the tide belts in, creating races as it flies past multicoloured buoys. Passing under the road bridge, we motor upriver towards distant Dartmoor and Hay Tor.

On either bank Roy points out regular Teign flounder marks. Charlie’s Beach, The Holiday Camp where the record flounder

We row past a large red ship and curve round the exposed Salty. There’s no further action so we turn and motor back for another run. The big spoons revolving about 30cm (12in) or so above the bottom are intended to attract flounder when they pass into the fishes’ visual range. ‘What you really need is clear water. Today it’s not as clear as I’d like but the flounder should be able to see them.’

He rebaits the Aberdeen hooks with peeler crab. Once the flounders take an interest in the spoons the fragrant peeler acts as an extra draw. Roy takes off the hard shell, then removes the legs, pincers and gills. He trims the dangly bits and puts the succulent meat on the hook, twisting it round two or three times to make a solid bait. He finishes the juicy presentation with a small bit of crab leg on the point. This tougher piece keeps the bait on the hook.

Roy drops the spoons overboard, pays out line and rows. He’s immediately in with a fish. As he brings it in, though, the other rod tip starts to dance, so he quickly nets the first flatty and grabs the other rod. The second fish is on now and puts up a tussle. As it nears the surface Roy submerges the landing net then guides the fish underwater to the net, making sure it doesn’t splash on the surface where there’s a possibility it might shed the hook.

The two glistening flounders are marbled beauties – one with faint red spots. They’re smaller than the first fish at around 1 ½ lb (0.8kg) each. (5lb 3oz 10dr) was caught, and Red Rocks higher up. We come to a halt and Roy drops anchor. ‘We’re virtually on the edge of a bank now where there’s a chance of a big flounder,’ he says changing his rigs to fish on the bottom with a running leger set up.

At anchor he is dependent on aromatic peeler appeal rather than on the movement of the spoons in the water. Crabs attack the baits which Roy casts into a gulley at the edge of the bank. Clusters of crab drip off as the baits emerge from the water. Roy always uses peeler in this area. ‘Ragworm might work – it does a bit farther upriver -but the crabs have them off the hook in a flash. Flounders occasionally push crabs off to get at the peeler.’

If there were fish around Roy would expect action fairly quickly, so he decides to up anchor and return to the spoons.

The tide is still coming in so he sets up a spooning course from just above the bridge, working upriver. Then when the tide turns he starts spooning downriver towards the bridge. It’s not long before the rod bends. A short scrap produces a fighting flounder -the smallest yet, but still over a pound (0.45kg). Again it is the big spoon that does the trick. So far three out of the four flatties opted for the bigger one.

Working down into the docks past Russian and Cypriot vessels, both rods dip. For a few seconds Roy plays a fish but it comes off. The other bite doesn’t develop. ‘We should get one now, the tide is going out and the water’s clear enough,’ he says confidently. In the morning the water in this area was treacle black and not suitable for the spoon.

Roy motors back upstream and starts to row back down with the tide again. Over goes the rod into a distinct bend and Roy lifts it. The flounder he winds in is another smaller fish. Quickly he rebaits with peeler and continues on course. There’s an instant take but another fish comes off. Roy thinks the bait is slightly too large so he winds in and trims the crab a bit.

Darkness is approaching as Roy rows steadily between the moored cargo ships and the now submerged Salty. The big spoon does it again and Roy responds to the thrill of a no-messing-about rod bend. The flounder that comes to the net is bigger than the last two at around 2lb (0.9kg). It’s the last fish of the day and confirms the big spoon as a real killer. It accounted for five of Roy’s six flounders.