Devon – February

Spring arrives early in the West Country. I felt warm in the bright sunshine but in the shade of the steep river valley, the cold north wind made me shiver and pull up the zip on my Barbour. The trees were bare, only wisps of bright green lichen on the branches and moss on the sunny side of the trunks, brought splashes of colour to an otherwise monotone underwood.


My first sight of the river was a shock. The crystal clear water raced along, washing over rocks, cleansing every pebble. There were no floating twigs or leaves, no rafts of flotsam. The floods in late January had removed all foreign bodies from the river’s course. Small streams and leats tumbled down each side of the valley and bubbled into the river. The sphagnum moss on Dartmoor had filtered the water and made it slightly acid, suppressing the growth of weed.


A thousand feet above sea level Dartmoor looked intimidating, dangerous. The grass had been shorn and looked like an uneven lawn dotted with stunted gorse bushes. It was squelchy underfoot, the turf saturated by the winter rain. The moorland pools were full, overflowing into tiny streams which fought their way between granite boulders towards Plymouth Sound. The weather changes quickly on the moor and looking west towards Bodmin, I could see Storm Ciara approaching. Heavy rain and gale force winds had been forecast. The big Atlantic storm darkened the horizon and I left the moor to seek shelter in another river valley.


A kingfisher zoomed between the arches of the 13th century bridge barely a foot above the water. The cutwaters carefully separated the flow, diverting the water between the granite pillars, sliding it over the ancient bridge’s foundations. Below the bridge the water swirled into a deep holding pool, the floor of which had been swept clean to expose the bedrock. Further downstream there was a fast run over multi coloured shale. I leant over the bridge parapet but saw no fish, they reveal themselves only when they change position.


I’d fished on Dartmoor and in it’s valleys more than forty years ago, catching a few fish but not consistently. Spate river fishing is different, it’s way outside my recent experience. The river was reminiscent of the Derwent but not as wide. It would be a challenge. I would have to use natural imitations, small heavily weighted flies that would sink quickly. Definitely no beads, just lead wire. Upstream nymphing might be the answer. The water was too fast and clear for ‘down and across’, the trout would see me before they saw the fly. A Devon fly box will need filling before the season opens in March.


Storm Ciara arrived in the village that evening at opening time. I had a pint, a nice steak and a glass of Shiraz before falling asleep infront of the wood burner. The following morning the river was in full spate. There should be plenty of water in the rivers throughout the summer.