In late 2019 I decided to broaden my fly fishing horizons. I took a Rod on the River Itchen and joined the Tavy Walkham and Plym Fishing Club. I renewed my longstanding membership of the Leconfield Fly Fishing Club and therefore had three venues stretched across the width of the South of England. Across two hundred and fifty five miles to be precise from Sussex, through Hampshire to West Devon.
Lockdown looked like a barrier to my widespread and expensive plans. However, we were released just as the Trout season got underway and the impact on my travels was minimal. My summer revolved around regular visits to the Itchen, fitting in other fishing trips according to the weather. For once rain was not a problem. If the Rother was coloured, the spate rivers on Dartmoor were filled with hungry Trout.
I didn’t visit the River Rother as much as I had in previous seasons, mainly because I was in a different County. The water level varied a lot and good river conditions never seemed to align with my availability. The lack of flying insects and water coloured by run-off, resulted in deep feeding fish. The deep sunk nymph accounted for more Trout than the dry fly. It was scary to get a big thump on the rod as a 2-3lb brownie seized the fly unseen. I didn’t see any Sea Trout smolts and only a couple of adults were caught by club members. Global warming, pollution and abstraction seem to have effected this lowland river more than most.
The River Itchen was very kind to me, both the fishing and the scenery were spectacular. I’d fished there once before, late in the 2019 season, when I had the entire fishery to myself and caught several good fish. I repeated my initial success on a couple of occasions in 2020. There were many heart-stopping moments as big Trout rose to the dry fly only to turn away.
As the season progressed the Trout became very wary and I had to raise my game to get any interest in the various fly patterns I presented. After each trip I felt that I’d cracked the secret but the next visit always knocked me back. In the deep swirling pools I learnt to distinguish between brownies and Sea Trout. I also came to recognise the difference between giant Chub and small Salmon which saved many a frustrating hour. The Itchen Trout were easy to find but difficult to catch.
Dartmoor memories from the early ’70s came flooding back during my first visits to the high moor. The landscape was both beautiful and dangerous. I had to abandon a couple of visits because of fog and faulty map reading.
Each time I ventured into the deep valleys on the western edge of Dartmoor I was in awe of the power of the rivers and the primeval forests. It looked like the Alaskan wilderness and I found myself spending more time admiring the scenery than fishing. It was a privilege to be allowed access to such an unspoilt environment. The Dartmoor Trout were hard to find but easy to catch.
It was a good season, the fishing was demanding, often hard work. If I had to sum up the season in one word, it would be ‘varied’. I’ve never driven as many fishing miles or fished so many miles of river. Will I do the same again next season? Probably not, the travelling was too much, I’ll adopt a more relaxed approach in 2021.
In the autumn of 2020 I bought a 300 year old farm cottage on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park, not far from the River Walkham, which will ensure a much more relaxed lifestyle.