2 May – River Tamar

All morning I battled with three tech companies’ help desks, a completely inappropriate term, over software complex enough to baffle NASA scientists. By lunch time I’d lost the will to live. There was only one solution, go fishing.

The Defender rattled and smoked a bit. It cheered me up, old engineering beats high tech every time. I chose to cross the border into Cornwall. The drive towards the Tamar Valley in bright sunshine, past woodland carpeted with bluebells, made me smile. It was a gorgeous Spring day and I was looking forwards to a relaxing walk along the river. The fields were lush, the grass calf high, liberally dotted with flowers. The cows and their new offspring were grazing in the adjacent field. The river level was slightly up and the water had a green-brown tint. The scene was set for a perfect afternoon.

As I walked upstream to the first of the salmon croys, I saw a mayfly rise from the shallows and flutter upstream. The first I had seen since last May. It was a good sign which boosted my confidence. A dead tree, washed away by the recent spates, had anchored itself to the bottom of the ladder and my access to the pool was blocked. Nevermind. I walked to the top of the Beat and climbed down the Ladder of Death onto the rocks. The masonry had been rearranged during the winter and I found a comfortable seat on a large rock with a slightly dished top. Perfect.

I flicked the Red Tag into the back eddy only ten yards away, preparing to cast across the riffle. It was immediately seized by a trout which battled beyond its size in the faster water. I was more surprised than the fish which was in perfect condition and swam away upstream into the glide. My first trout of the season.

I covered the rest of the riffle and the bubble line, far down the pool but only had a tentative nip which was probably a grayling. I saw a rise upstream but ignored it. It was way out of range, near the far bank, across fast water. Another rise about ten yards upstream, close to my bank, signalled the start of a feeding spree. The fish were taking Hawthorn flies but during a frantic hour of casting and changing flies, they rejected my offerings and eventually went down when the upstream wind eased.

I waited, sitting on the rock, resting the fish but the rise was over. My way back to the Defender was blocked by a large group of cows and their calves drinking in the stream. I confidently shooed them back into their field until I saw an evil looking bull in their midst. I retraced my steps and waited patiently until they had watered and wandered off.

That small wild trout and the feeding spree, signalled the start of the performance, my previous trips had been dress rehearsals. Next weekend I hope to be chasing mayflies and big brownies.

28 April – River Plym

The first May Bank Holiday would bring hordes of walkers, cyclists and campers. I decided to take advantage of a brief lull in the rain and visit the river. A peaceful walk beside a Dartmoor river with a fly rod would balance the onslaught of Lycra maniacs, disposable barbeques and litter.

The warm north west wind and sparse cloud cover prompted a hatch of olives and I kept an eye on the water as I threaded the fly line through the rod rings. I started with a few upstream casts on a broad riffle with several deep channels in the bed rock. Just to get in the zone and straighten the fly line. After retrieving my fly from a hazel tree, I moved upstream to the first big pool.

The water had a peaty tint and a nice flow, the level was slightly above normal. I explored the sandy margins of a back eddy with an extra heavy GRHE nymph expecting a take at any second. I extended the cast and ran the fly down the bubble line and then through the depths of the fast water along the far bank. Nothing.

I had imagined the woodland covered with bluebells and wild garlic. I found a solitary patch of garlic. The bluebells were sparse, held back by the shade of the trees and cold weather during April. They would be at their best in a couple of weeks.

I walked slowly upstream, scanning the depths for any movement. I paused on a shingle beach and cast upstream, allowing the nymph to trundle down through a small pool next to the sheer rock face along the opposite bank. I saw a dipper and heard a kingfisher but the trout were absent.

I reached the middle of the Beat where in previous seasons, I had seen both fish and mayflies. I sat behind cover and concentrated on covering the entire pool and run out. There were no footprints or paw prints in the sand, similarly no trout were at home.

I walked back downstream and reworked the big pool. I lost concentration and had to rescue my favourite nymph from a tree. Time to go. It had been a lovely, relaxing walk without the distractions of the real world.

7 April – River Tavy

Good Friday, sunny and in the middle of the school holidays. Nevertheless, I couldn’t keep away from the river. The river looked perfect and I expected to catch.

The top of the Beat, above the dead tree, failed to produce a trout but I was content to sit in the sun and watch the river. Olives were hatching everywhere and a crow hassled a buzzard above the tree tops.

The middle of the Beat was occupied by several families sitting on the short grass with a picnic. The young children were perfectly behaved until I started to explore a long pool. Then the rock throwing started.

I unlocked the gate at the lower part of the Beat and looked for the bronze plaque on the Major’s rock. As usual, I couldn’t find the memorial. There were no intruders. The pool was wide, deep and flowing evenly but it also failed to produce a take. I was hot and tired, it was time to retrace my steps.

The drive out of the valley was interesting, The Defender rattled and banged it’s way up the rocky track and delivered me safely back on tarmac. A wonderful morning beside the river.

6 April – River Plym

I was inspired by advice about tactics and tackle tips on swollen streams. Short leader, big flies and fire the casts low. I was happy with the latter because that’s my normal casting style. Thoughts on a short leader and big flies made me nervous.

As I drove over the bridge the height of the water thundering through the arches knocked my confidence a bit but at least it wasn’t raining. The car park was rammed with mini buses, climbing instructors and teenagers. No spaniels.

I fished the slack formed by the bridge cutwater. A heavy GRHE nymph worked well. Short line, cast, lift, repeat. I lost the nymph in a tree and moved downstream. Having lost the tippet, I attached the replacement fly direct to the leader making the business end shorter and stronger. The fast, white water would hide the heavier line.

The private woodland was quiet, the fallen oak and beech leaves deadened the sounds. I fished every back eddy, bankside slack and flat water. Some small pools has been created by the high water where I would normally crouch down to cast. The water was crystal clear and I hid behind trees and boulders to avoid throwing shadows, the morning sun was low and behind me.

I sat on the old seat which had survived the winter spates, it can’t last another winter. The fallen oak tree which normally bars my way, had been washed aside and lay, stripped of its boughs, close to the rock face.

I walked back through the woods watching the river. A woodcock flew across the river and disappeared. A kingfisher whizzed upstream with a single ‘peep’, it flew too fast for my eyes to adjust, it was just a blur.

It had been an interesting morning. My confidence gradually evaporated as each pool failed to yield a trout despite my best efforts and concentration. The season is nearly a month old and I have yet to catch a trout !

3 April – River Tavy

Spring had arrived in Devon. The morning was dull but warm with a south easterly wind. I wanted a peaceful few hours beside the water without kids or spaniels. I opted for a stretch of the Tavy reserved for members. The plan was to travel light, walk the entire Beat and winkle out a couple of trout.

The overcast burnt off leaving clean air, fluffy white clouds and a bright blue sky. The water was clear with a slight green tint, it raced through the riffles and channels in the rock.

Olives hatched and drifted upwards but there was no sign of rising trout. If a trout had risen to intercept a fly it would probably have gone unseen in the turbulent water. The choice of fly was obvious, a heavily weighted nymph.

I started by covering a deep channel in midstream, constantly mending the line to allow the fly to get down deep. Each drift lasted about ten seconds before the fly dragged over the lip of a riffle. It was hard work. I moved down a few yards and allowed the fly to trundle round in a back eddy.

A few wagtails moved along the river picking off Olives but there was little to distract me until a couple of youngsters and a dog appeared beside the river well upstream of me. End of term games on a sandy beach beside a torrent of cold water and a dog off the lead. What could possibly go wrong ? As I moved further downstream I wondered what I would do if a dog or child floated past.

I explored the eddies under the bank and drifted the nymph through the deep flat water, there was no response. I eventually reached the deep pool near the end of the Beat but there was too much water for nymphing, it was like an industrial washing machine. I sat and watched the water for a while and then wandered back to the Defender.

I had a soggy foot and a muddy backside. I was tired and dehydrated but content with my efforts. The weather had been glorious and it was good to be back on the river making a genuine attempt to catch a trout rather than messing about.

I have yet to catch my first trout of the season.