It was my last chance to fish on Dartmoor before the end of the season. The dog walkers were out in force but I climbed over the fence into the privacy of the wood. I’d… More
The morning was warm and humid with high hazy cloud. The perfect fishing weather gave me confidence and as I drove towards Hampshire, away from the madness of London Europe, anticipation grew. I expected to catch something and to enjoy the scenery. I stopped for diesel and bought a pork pie to further enhance the day.
As I crossed the road bridge I paused to admire the river, the weed was bright green and the water sparkled. I saw a small fish on the gravel shallows, the scene was set for a memorable day. Before setting up my rod I wandered through the trees to look at the top of the Beat. In between the fronds of weed a huge fish became agitated as I watched it from the footbridge. My presence made the Trout uncomfortable and it joined an equally large specimen under my feet, beside the bridge support. They looked about 6lb and I returned with my rod a few minutes later. Unfortunately several eager casts placed the fly on a strand of wire under the bridge and while messing about retrieving it, both fish departed upstream into the next Beat.
I found a small fish on the shallows between two Willows and floated a Black Gnat directly over it on the first attempt. There was no reaction. As I crawled forwards another Trout shot out of the margin and settled near my target. Both fish repeatedly rejected my offerings and eventually disappeared into the weeds. I found fish in every pool but after ninety minutes of concentration and hard work, I’d had no response. While carefully presenting the fly to a brace of good fish lying deep on a patch of gravel, a smaller Trout came from midstream and grabbed the fly. It was a dark coloured Trout about 2lbs and as it rocketed back into the pool I thought that I would celebrate with a Marmite sandwich.
Lunch over I started again at the top of the Beat. The two big fish had not returned but I found several Trout and tried to coax them with different fly patterns and sizes. The fish mainly ignored the flies but several moved aside as the fly passed, returning to their position as it drifted away. They had clearly seen the fly. Thoughts of Sea Trout returned, some of the larger fish were very dark and could have been Salmon.
Near the end of the Beat I found a group of good fish in a large pool on a bend. They were active but unsettled. My first cast alerted a big Trout, it bolted for cover. A few minutes later the smallest fish in the pool grabbed the fly and used the fast current to put up a very spirited fight. It was about 2lbs, the other fish were spooked and I rested the pool. From further downstream I could see a shoal of Sea Trout, resting grey shadows, highlighted against the dark algae on the bottom of the run. They were competing for space and the best lies.
Trout started to show an interest in my flies and a few Sedges hatched. Two fish in thirty minutes bought my tally to four two-pounders and I thought that was sufficient. I’d worked hard, been rewarded and there was no point in continuing. It had been a perfect day and another brace would not feel right, just greedy.
I drove back through Midhurst and detoured via Little Bognor to visit the lakes. The valley was silent and the lakes flat calm but as the light faded several fish started to take buzzers. I couldn’t resist the temptation. My slow sinking buzzer was ignored and it became too dark to tie on a fly.
The bright sunny morning was forecast to turn wet mid-afternoon but Dartmoor has its own microclimate and weather forecasts cannot be relied upon. Rather than wait until the evening, I decided to set off early and find a quiet stretch of river with no spaniels or kids throwing stones.
My first choice was like Butlins; campers, barbecues, dog walkers and swimmers. I drove further downstream, to the next bridge. There were a few dog walker’s cars but they had all gone upstream along the well trodden footpaths. I found a small gap in the overgrown hedge and clambered over a barbed wire fence. The ancient wood was quiet, even the birds were silent. Green lichen covered the trees and massive boulders were scattered around the woodland, put there by spates over hundreds of years. It was a bit spooky and I trod quietly.
The river looked superb; clear and fast, slightly above the normal level. White water forced its way between the boulders and tree roots. Each long wide riffle probably held several Trout, sheltering in slacks and gullies in the bedrock. I chose a small black spider and rolled it down and across, exploring the slower currents, sometimes draping the leader over a rock to cover the deeper water behind the rounded granite. At every pool I was distracted by the beauty of the sunlight on the trees and the sparkling water. I spent considerably more time watching the river than fishing. The river was magical, timeless and unspoilt.
I found a huge boulder at the top of a pool and sat on its upstream side, flicking the fly into water that I was convinced held a fish. I changed the fly to an olive and ginger spider heavily weighted with black wire. I dangled the fly over the boulder and let it sink about four feet towards the hollow scoured out under the rock. The rod bent and a feisty Trout fought well above its weight. It was a little gem and it arrowed back into the fast water when I slipped the barbless hook out of it’s jaw.
Spurred on by the success I explored similar pools but the rod stayed straight. I came to a rock cliff where the path had been blocked by a fallen tree and I was forced to turn back. The air felt thundery and as I drove away from the river it started to rain. I had seen neither people nor dogs. It was a good choice of location and immaculate timing weather-wise.
PS – I visited the Abbey Beat on 7 September and after a long, dodgy off-road drive and a long walk, I realised I’d forgotten my nymph box. It was a nice sunset.
Rain was forecast for the afternoon and as I woke early, it seemed sensible to leave the house without breakfast. The traffic was light and I arrived in good spirits to fish a Beat that I had been rained-off a few weeks earlier, the Long Reach.
The air was heavy with the scent of new mown grass and the river looked in excellent condition, flowing fast and with a hint of colour from the heavy rain the day before. I peeped over the neatly trimmed marginal plants and saw three fish in the first pool. They were active, a great way to start the day. I soon got into a routine of presenting a dry fly and after several casts, quietly retreating to select another. Each change of fly boosted my confidence for a few minutes until it too was ignored. I was convinced that each change of fly would immediately provoke a take but of course, nothing happened. I decided to rest the fish and move upstream.
I found a couple of fish in a narrow run just above an overhanging Willow. The casts were well measured and accurate but each fly was ignored by both fish. On my last visit I had spent a lot of time trying to tempt fish from a large shoal only to be later informed that they were Sea Trout. I had been wasting my time and I wondered if I was repeating that error. One of the Trout was a very light colour and looked like a wild brownie. I repeated the present-ignore-change cycle at several more pools on my way to the top of the Beat. None of the fish showed the slightest interest in my offerings.
During the walk back to the bottom of the Beat I found a group of very large fish under the near bank in a deep run. After a sandwich and drink I felt energised, Red Bull has that effect, ready for a successful afternoon. I fished each of the pools again using all my secret weapons but the fish were indifferent. Parachute flies, neoprene buzzers and Black Gnats all failed to stir the Trout into action.
The group of large fish in the deep run were active and I thought this was my best chance. A big dark coloured specimen turned and followed my fly downstream but showed no sign of taking. I think it was just changing it’s lie. I walked back to the bottom of the Beat to start my third journey upstream but just as I started to plan an attack the forecast rain arrived and I realised I had run out of time. The poor light and rain drops obscured all of the sub-surface activity. It’s no fun fishing blind on a chalkstream and I called it a day.
Storm Francis approached from the Atlantic and threatened to spoil the fishing for a few days. I’d planned to take a guest to the Rother and visit the Itchen but both trips looked unlikely. The Rother was a bit high but I made a last minute decision to spend a couple of hours there, a quiet walk in the Sussex countryside before the storm.
I parked on the edge of the wood, the cool damp tunnel of trees was dark and a couple of Wood Pigeons called to each other. The new released, tatty Pheasant poults wandered around the track and the margins of the river puzzled by their new found freedom and lack of food. As I emerged from the wood a male Sparrow Hawk left its perch high in one of the Alder trees and settled in a big Oak further downstream. A large Buzzard was using the blustery wind to explore the field across the river, young Pheasants are easy pickings.
The contrast between the mellow lowland river and the frantic, young Dartmoor streams was marked. The grass was soft and easy to kneel upon but the fish-holding lies were not so obvious. The Beat below Keepers Bridge looked good, there were plenty of Alder trees and clumps of streamer weed to provide shelter for the Trout. I took time to practice my casting which was unusually accurate. The sun was bright and I knew that I had to get the fly close to the tree roots and weedbeds, fishing in open water would be a waste of time.
The gusty wind helped curl the leader into places that would normally be out of bounds but the fish were not impressed with the trick shots. I worked the fly around the weeds on the shallow sandy stretch above the bridge where a wild fish lives. I heard a rise and saw the ripples close to the far bank under the rushes. I dropped the fly upstream of the rise and the line tightened as the fish took. It fought like a four pounder but shrunk to about two pounds in the net. I was a little surprised to catch a fish so soon but I was happy with the result.
I moved downstream to a deep pool below an Alder tree where, after a couple of casts, the leader hesitated and slowly the line drew taught. Two slow takes, two hooked fish and two successfully landed. That was well above my average.
I walked downstream to the New Riffle but the water was too shallow and weedy to hold fish. The wind got up and dark clouds billowed over the Downs. I decided to leave while still dry. I hadn’t expected to catch much and two good fish were a bonus.
The journey West was tolerable, while driving my thoughts were mainly about the Willows Beat where I had a fantastic day last season. That day sticks in my memory because it was my first experience of proper chalkstream fly fishing and because the Trout were spectacular. I was also anticipating a cool day beside crystal clear water, respite from the thundery weather hanging over the Surrey hills.
The water level had dropped a little but good management of the weed had kept the gravel shallows covered and provided cover for the Trout. I’d glued a new tapered leader into the core of the Rio Chalkstream Special and cleaned the rod with a baby-wipe. I was surprised at the amount of dirt that came off the carbon.
I started at the bottom of the Beat which would take a couple of hours to explore thoroughly. I found a couple of fish in impossible lies, where else would they be, but struck gold in the run below the Willow bush. The pool held about a dozen Trout of various sizes and they looked active.
I prepared everything, including the landing net, anticipating an easy first fish. An hour later, having tried every fly in the box, I was puzzled but not frustrated. A couple of flies had stirred a few fins but generally the various patterns and sizes had been ignored. Then, out of the blue, a fish shot across the pool and grabbed the fly. After some aerobatics it shook the hook. Small barbless hooks don’t hold a fish for long.
After another fishless hour I was beginning to think about lunch. I covered a fish in midstream and the presentation was perfect. As the fly approached my target a pale coloured fish dashed across the current and snatched the Black Gnat off the surface. Success at last.
I moved upstream to the pool on the bend but as I sorted out my gear and celebrated, a few drops of rain fell and the temperature dropped. I decided to shelter under the Hawthorn tree, “it would only be a shower”. Big mistake, very big. I moved from tree to tree seeking better shelter but things got serious, the wind became gale force and the rain blew horizontally in sheets. My wellies filled up and I decided to walk back to the main fishing hut. If I had jumped in the river I wouldn’t have been any wetter.
I stood under cover and dripped. The sun came out and I changed my boots. My T shirt and trousers felt like a wetsuit. I wandered, steaming, back to the pool but the water was coloured and weed debris made fishing impossible. Cut weed left on the racks upstream had been washed off by the rising water level. I waited an hour but the water became a thick grey soup from the road washings so I reluctantly left. I felt relieved to have caught a Trout before the storm arrived. My iPhone is behaving erratically, it’s not storm proof.