The river trout season in Sussex ends on 31 October. I could fish the club’s lakes until 30 November but I only had a week before I was due to return to Devon. River Rother… More
The Defender electrickery foiled any plans for long, offroad forays into deep valleys and forests. A completely flat battery and dead dashboard brought its efficient Swedish counterpart into play and distance was therefore no object. A relaxing drive across the border into Cornwall and a not so relaxing walk across the fileds, found me on the banks of the River Tamar. I had the Beat to myself.
The river was a little coloured and at its normal level. It was overcast and warm, perfect fishing conditions. I started at the bottom of the Beat and walked slowly upstream looking for fish. Most of the rising fish were under the trees along the far bank, well out of range. Occasionally an acorn plopped into the river, I was familiar with the noise and ignored it. A lone kingfisher zoomed upstream and a buzzard mewed high above me near the cloud base.
I didn’t fish any of the slow stretches, I could see the rocks and boulders on the riverbed but no fish. I climbed down the ladder at the first riffle and perched on a large rock. I had just enough room for a side cast both upstream and downstream. I chose a weighted GRHE nymph and scoured the pool methodically for about an hour without any response. The pool below the riffle was the only deep water in the middle of the Beat and I was convinced that it held fish.
I’d caught a couple of grayling in the pool on a previous trip and I thought a change of fly might help. I chose a heavy wet fly with a red tag, which would sink quickly in the fast water and would be more visible than the drab GRHE nymph.
I worked the fly down the bubble line and soon had a positive take. The snake-like wriggling and thumps on the rod told me it was a grayling. The fish was in pristine condition and departed at high speed. It was satisfying to have changed tactics and been rewarded so quickly. I imagined a small shoal of grayling in the slow, deep water waiting for tasty morsels to drift past. The fish had taken my fly about twenty yards down the pool. I threw a loop across the current and fed out line until the distance seemed right. A couple of drifts later I had a very solid take, the fish stayed deep and was obviously much bigger. I eased the grayling towards me but the hook pinged out just as I raised the rod to grasp the fish.
A few minutes later, as the fly drifted through the same part of the pool, I had another violent take. Another long fight, with the fish staying deep in the fast water, resulted in a big grayling which came safely to hand. I was in the zone but the takes petered out. Twenty minutes later I had a tap on the rod much further down the pool. Either the fish had moved downstream, out of reach, or the shoal had been spooked.
I walked upstream to the next riffle where the water was faster and shallower. I immediately caught a very small grayling. I knew that I wouldn’t catch anything else, so I climbed back up the ladder and wandered downstream. I dabbled a fly in a few deep runs but with little conviction. I had caught sufficient. It had been an excellent afternoon.
Summer had come to an end, the morning was chilly and the lawn had a silvery coating. The leaves were starting to turn and the roses were all dead. I checked the end date for the Devon trout season and was surprised to see that I only had a couple of weeks left. It’s the same date every year and therefore it should not have been a surprise !
The bright sunshine and gusty wind dictated a sheltered river valley and I chose the River Tavy mainly because of the lovely scenery, a trout would be a bonus. I started later than normal, arriving at the river mid-afternoon, planning to fish until dusk.
The river looked great, slightly above the normal summer level and with a little colour. Perfect conditions. I managed to loop the line around a reel pillar while setting up and the line felt odd until I realised and started afresh. While I re-strung the rod I saw an osprey directly overhead, just above the tree canopy. I checked later and it had also been reported over Lopwell. That lifted my spirits and I fished down the runs confident that I would find a few fish.
I reached a wide riffle with a long flat downstream and decided to sit on a rock while covering the water. I misjudged the position of the rock and ended up sitting in the river. The water temperature was about 13 degrees. I laughed and tried to remember the last time I had fallen in the river. I couldn’t recall, it must have been years ago.
I rolled the line across the main current and drifted the nymph down and across the likely holding places on the edge of the bubble line. I had a tap on the rod but missed it. The bedrock had been exposed during the spates, deep crevices and holes must have held trout but I could not encourage them to take the fly.
The sunlight became a grey overcast and a few upwing flies hatched. A couple of trout rose in midstream and I changed to a dry fly. I waited for a fish to reveal it’s position and flicked the fly well above the rise. Nothing. The first cast had failed and the fish went down. I felt a bit chilly in my wet clothes and at dusk I left the river fishless but having enjoyed the scenery and wildlife.
Several days of heavy showers had raised the level of the rivers. Dartmoor filtered most of the rain and after a couple of days of road run off, the dirt dropped out to leave clean water. The colour changed from end-of-barrel-murky-bitter to fresh lager. I watched the trout from the bridge over the River Walkham, they had taken up positions behind ledges and rocks, darting out to taste passing debris.
The rain had cleared away the wild swimmers and spaniels. Rock throwing kids had gone back to school and I had a wide choice of undisturbed Beats to fish. The unpredictable weather ruled out long walks into the centre of the moor, it was too dangerous. The rapidly changing light prompted me to choose a stretch of the River Plym in a deep valley where I could spend time with both the camera and the rod.
I started in the bridge pool with an upstream nymph. The usual size 14 Gold Ribbed Hares Ear nymph trundled around beside the cutwater and was taken confidently by an immaculate brownie. A simple approach had been effective, a tapered nylon leader and two knots, to tippet and to fly. No beads, no droppers and no trendy modern rig with furled leader, rings and loops. The soggy fly looked remarkably like Gammarus, the freshwater shrimp.
I felt that the pool held other trout and extended my casts further upstream under the arch of the bridge. A tap on the rod confirmed my thoughts. I changed fly and flicked the Black Pennell into the fast water. It was ignored, the little trout had gone into hiding.
I walked slowly down the Beat, fishing some of the pools with an upstream nymph, occasionally hanging around tree trunks, dabbling the nymph through white water, mainly fishing down and across where access was restricted by the steep rock strewn banks. I found trout in most pools. My long term average was maintained; half the takes converted – half of hooked fish landed.
Big troop carrying helicopters thundered overhead, just above the tree tops. At Bickleigh, just a mile upstream, 42 Commando were loading themselves and their kit onboard HMS Albion moored in Plymouth Sound. The atmosphere in the deep valley was quite spooky. The tree canopy kept the humidity high. The lichen covered branches, the ferns among the granite boulders and the twisted boughs looked like a screen grab from Jurassic Park. The woods were silent, pheasants strutted around like velociraptors and the helicopters provided an apocalyptic sound track.
I rested on the bench in the middle of the Beat. I had spent the majority of the afternoon watching the river and taking photos. It had been a memorable three hours. The next morning, after a night of torrential rain, the River Walkham had risen a foot and the roar of the weir could be heard in my cottage. I had timed my trip perfectly.
My head told me to wait and only fish the two hours before dusk. As usual, I was too impatient and arrived at the river just after lunch. I passed through a cloud burst on the way which washed the dust off the car and cleared the air. I paused at Rotherbridge to check the water clarity, I could see the little dimples in the sand where the dace and small chub had been feeding.
Looking downstream I saw a chub about 3lbs trying to hide under a couple of strands of streamer weed. I had a loaf in the back of the car, left over from the previous days carp fishing, which crumbled and sank nicely. I soon had a shoal of big chub in a feeding frenzy. Strangely, they would not rise for the crusts. Fussy fish.
I moved upstream and watched the river at Keepers Bridge, it was dead. The hazy sunshine and the warm upstream breeze were far from ideal. I planned to stroll further upstream to Perryfields Barn, where few people bother to go, fishing the north bank on my return journey. Light rain was forecast so I wore a lightweight Barbour jacket and loaded the pockets with fly boxes. Big mistake. When I arrived at the barn I was hot and exhausted. The humidity and flies didn’t help.
A kestrel and a young buzzard engaged in aerial combat, one shedding a feather for my fly tying box. The buzzard departed and the smaller bird sat on a wire, puffed up, looking victorious, seeking my applause. While resting, I heard a fish rise under the bridge in an impossible position.
I tied on a parachute Adams and crept down the bank behind a wall of rushes. A slanting cast with a flick of the rod tip resulted in a couple of lost flies and a rise in blood pressure. The fish didn’t rise. I left the pool and went further upstream. Drifting a nymph under the trees along the far bank was unproductive. On my return an hour later, I cast a nymph under the bridge from well upstream but couldn’t induce a take. I consoled myself that it might have been a sea trout.
I explored a few pools on the walk back to Keepers Bridge but it wasn’t until I crossed the bridge back to the south bank that I saw a fish rise. Where I had watched the river four hours earlier !
I tried a dry fly but the fish ignored my offering. A change to a weighted silver and black fly bought an immediate response. I lifted as the leader drew away, a small fish wriggled for a second or two and then came off. Size 14 hooks don’t hold well.
At the end of my journey back to Devon I stopped to pick up my picture which had been entitled “Portrait of a Gent” by the young lady who mounted and framed the photo. Stuart Mack had created the image during a photo shoot at Petworth earlier in the year. The texture and colours convey the tradition of many field sports. It records the selection of a GRHE nymph, my favourite fly.
Morning – It was a “misty, moisty morning, cloudy was the weather“. I broke with tradition and left home before breakfast. I sneaked through the woods and startled a couple of deer drinking in the River Plym. They took flight, bounded noisily across the water to the far bank and dashed away through the woods. My approach had not been as stealthy as I thought. The river was low and clear, a few leaves swirled in the back eddies. Beech leaves, usually the last to be shed, made up the bulk of the debris. I stood beside an alder tree, watching the water for any signs of trout. There were none. A kingfisher zoomed past heading downstream, piping as it disappeared under the bridge.
I waited for about an hour, watching the mist condense and evaporate. The pool upstream looked beautiful in the low morning light. I heard a deer approach from behind. I was unsighted, shin deep in it’s watering hole, hidden by a hazel bush. I became a statue but the deer sensed me and moved away. A sea trout rose at the top of the pool and that was my sign to get closer. A long detour through the bracken enabled me to get into position behind a gorse bush. The kingfisher returned with its mate and the pair, constantly piping to each other, darted around the pool looking for tiddlers.
The sea trout were active, a fish splashed every twenty minutes and there were occasional silver flashes deep in the water as they tried to get rid of lice. My eyes adjusted to the rock patterns and shadows, fish movement became more obvious. A big fish, 2-3lbs, crept alongside a fold in the bedrock and then finned away towards a sunken tree trunk. It returned to open water and shot two feet into the air. A fresh run bar of silver. There were several fish in the pool. As the sun rose their activity decreased and after an hour, the pool looked barren. I’d left my rod in the Defender but I had caught the beauty of the morning, the kingfishers and sea trout with my camera. I had a fry-up when I got home.
Evening – I was conscious that the end of the season was fast approaching and that I would have no excuse to visit my favourite places on the River Tavy. The light rain ensured that there were no strangers with spaniels beside the river, only sheep. The bracken was waist high and the river channeled mid-stream. I had access to runs and pools that were normally unreachable. Thousands of pheasant poults covered the track and hillside. They had recently been released and wandered around aimlessly. I went upstream without disturbing them. I took a rod.
The top pool had a good flow and I missed a take on a weighted nymph. Lower down the pool a couple of fish rose for large, brown upwing flies but I decided to stick with the nymph.
I watched the runs and riffles for signs of feeding trout but the river was quiet. About a dozen grey wagtails were ambushing flies from rocks mid-stream and along the far bank but I think the trout population had been devastated by predators. They were easy pickings in the shallow, clear water. I walked downstream to the Hut Pool where I was sure to catch a trout. A couple of fish rose in the bubble lane, way out of reach.
The climb back out of the valley over damp granite rocks exercised every moving part of the Defenders suspension and some parts that are not designed to move. Both wing mirrors brushed the bracken and briar along the farm track towards the village. It had been a rewarding day. No fish had been caught, it was enough to be beside the water. The River Rother beckons.