27 May – Beat A

The top Beat is a jungle, very few members fish there. The river is shallow and in places, quite swift. The fallen trees, high banks and bushes demand accurate casting. A 10′ rod and telescopic landing net handle are essential.

I arrived at the top of the old railway track and stood watching the river for a few minutes. The watery sunshine enabled me to see the sunken branches and streamer weed. There were no flies hatching and consequently, no fish rising. I walked past the big pool and settled down on the grass to watch a stretch below a tunnel of alder trees.

The upstream breeze enabled me to flick a nymph under the trees and work it back towards me alongside the streamer weed. After several casts, just as I was lifting off, a small wild trout grabbed the fly but I lifted it out of it’s mouth ! It was good to have contact with a fish so early in my walk.

The sun broke through the overcast and almost immediately, mayfly started hatching. The air was full of duns fluttering upwards into the security of the tree tops. For the first time this season I saw swallows swooping over the river, snatching wayward flies unable to cope with the breeze.

Female dun

I walked slowly upstream, pausing at every opening in the vegetation, waiting for a trout to reveal itself. A big fish splashed at the duns floating past a partially submerged branch. I had a dead overhanging tree on my left, a tall bush to my right and a limited drift. The first mayfly imitation was ignored completely but the fish continued to rise. The second imitation brought the trout up but after an inspection, it swirled away. I was surprised, I had expected a confident take. The fish had obviously seen better.

I swapped the fly for a white, neoprene bodied mayfly with a generous hackle. It landed perfectly, the trout rose and gulped it down. I made the connection but the fish leapt out of the water and threw the hook. A long distance release. Shame, it was a very nice trout about three pounds.

The sun became more intense and the mayfly continued to hatch. I walked upstream, pausing at the gaps in the trees to watch the sandy patches where, in previous seasons, I had caught a trout. I turned back before I reached the very top of the Beat, I was tired and the sun was draining what little energy I had left.

I saw a trout rising in an impossible lie, the overhanging bushes left no room for an overhead cast. A bow and arrow cast was the only solution. My 10′ rod and 10′ leader were two feet short. I edged forward onto the very lip of the high bank and stretched my arm as far as possible. I avoided hooking my finger as the line pinged out, the fly dropped in exactly the right place and was immediately seized. I held the fish tight and encouraged it downstream where I could clamber down a tree trunk to the waters edge. It was about two pounds and dashed away from the landing net, a little embarrassed at it’s capture.

An early meal at the Black Horse in Byworth was a fitting end to a memorable day.

23 May – Keepers Bridge

The warm, humid and overcast weather was perfect for the mayfly and therefore fishing on the Rother. The mayfly hatch at the lakes appeared to have ended. The warm breeze from the south west would be downstream at Keepers Bridge and a slight ripple would help the emerging mayfly escape the surface tension.

Prototype mayfly

I parked under the trees and walked down the slope, the river looked beautiful and was deserted. I stood on the outside of the first bend looking upstream towards the willow bush and downstream to beyond the bridge. I could see about two hundred yards of river, lined with alder trees and overhanging bushes.

I was confident that I would see a few fish rise and I didn’t have long to wait. A trout splashed at a mayfly just upstream of the bridge. A couple of minutes later another trout rose closer to me. A good fish rose continually among the debris hanging from a tree branch. I recalled a fish that rose there on 10 May and wondered if it would be a repeat capture. I stood watching the river for about an hour and satisfied that I had marked sufficient targets, returned to the car to get my rod and net.

I acted as ghillie for a couple of hours, pointing out rising fish and giving tips on presentation. We walked downstream, watching the water and only casting to rising fish. A tractor the size of a small house arrived to mow the grass and we switched our attention to the upstream pools. Several fish were rising along the Sandy Pool. I cast to a rising fish which promptly rose again, a yard above my mayfly ! I lifted off and flicked the fly further upstream. A few seconds later it was gulped down and a strong fish about 2lbs eventually slid into the landing net.

We tempted another trout from under the far bank at the top of the pool. An accurate cast was essential as there were large numbers of duns floating down the bubble line and the fish didn’t have to move far to find a tasty mayfly snack.

The resident trout under the tree branch had recovered from the tractor earthquake and was rising every minute to intercept duns funneled into midstream by the willow bush and flood debris. There was a gap in the alder branches less than a yard wide and the drift was only a couple of feet. Throwing caution to the wind, I kept the rod from deviating off its arc and set the mayfly down perfectly. Several times. Without hooking the tree. I rested the fish for a few minutes while I dried the fly, it took on the next cast. I bent the Hardy into a loop, dragged the fish out of danger and played it under the near bank. It was my friend from two weeks ago, easily identified by a slightly deformed jaw.

The prototype mayfly had been a success, it floated on the organza wings much longer than a conventional pattern and didn’t twist the tippet during the cast. I must tie some more.

19 May – River Tavy

The Tavy had dropped a little and looked perfect, the trout would be hungry after the mini-spate. I decided to spend more time watching the water and less time prospecting. Sitting on a warm patch of coarse sand beside the top pool was relaxing. The occasional mayfly hatched from the shallows, Blue Winged Olives drifted past and the dense clouds of midges hung over the water when the breeze permitted.

There was no sign of trout, in the broken water it was difficult to be specific about any surface movement. The pool was deep and rocky, four to five feet of water rushed around submerged boulders the size of dustbins. The crevices held trout but they were not rising. A long leader and a weighted GRHE nymph was the answer. I had a tap on the rod first cast, along the bankside drop-off and a gentle pull on the line second cast. Slightly further down the pool in slack water, a trout grabbed the nymph and went airborne. It looked like a sea trout smolt which I released without touching the fish. I wished it well. A good start to the day. As I stood up to walk downstream a fish rose only a rod length from me. I sat down and drifted a dry fly over the fish but there was no response.

I remembered a day last season when the trout were on the shallows intercepting emergers and adults in the faster water. I sat on a rock and watched a glide in midstream which ended under trees along the far bank. A small fish rose out of range downstream. A good fish rose opposite me only ten yards away. I dropped a parachute GRHE above the rise and the rod hooped over. The fish took line downstream and then upstream. It fought like a 2lb-er but it shrunk as I drew it nearer. It was my best fish from the Dartmoor rivers, about 1lb and fin perfect.

I sat on the short grass beside a pool and watched the river. Fingerling trout were darting around in the warm, shallow water. A big shadow passed across me and I looked up to see a buzzard drifting down the tree line along the far bank. The hot sun and dehydration got to me and I left the river. The Defender carried me out of the valley despite the state of the track which had washed out during the recent rain. The steep slope, pot holes and rock outcrops tested it to the limit.

18 May – River Tavy

The Dartmoor rivers had risen a few inches and were slightly coloured. The Walkham, flowing through the village, looked distinctly cloudy from road washings and would have to wait a day or two. Just below the bridge a trout rose for a midge among the tree debris in an attempt to distract me but I had planned a morning on the Tavy.

The Tavy was coloured but not cloudy, I could see the rocks on the bottom in midstream. I sat beside the river on a shingle beach at the top of the Beat and watched the flies hatching. Mayfly duns hatched from the shallow water infront of me, olives filled the air and midges buzzed over the surface of the water. There were so many flies that I didn’t know which pattern to start with. A small brown nymph, then a spider and finally a GRHE nymph, no response to anything. A fish rose in midstream under a tree so I tied on a small dry olive and drifted it under the branches. I missed the take.

Further downstream I missed another trout on a dry fly and had a slow draw on a nymph that might have been a submerged leaf. Light rain caused me to pause on the seat under the big oak tree. The lean on the tree was a bit intimidating and I continued my walk down to the end of the Beat.

Heavy rain was forecast for the afternoon and as the weather deteriorated, I made my way back to the Defender. Although I hadn’t caught a trout, the mass of wild flowers, the bewildering numbers of flies hatching and the tranquility had made it a memorable morning.

16 May – River Walkham

Monday, rain, no spaniels. Definitely a fishing day. I left the cottage in the rain, confident that it would ease off and to give the Defender a wash. As I walked down the side of the valley, through the woods, the rain stopped but every gust of wind shook the tree tops creating a mini cloudburst.

The upstream breeze helped me work a nymph through the first pool but I wasn’t happy with the presentation. I wondered if I had lined the trout and put them down.

I walked to the top of the Beat through the bluebell woods. Keeping off the path and well back from the river soaked me to the waist.

The top pools and riffles meant crawling around under the tree tunnels. The long rod helped me roll cast and dangle a nymph behind rocks. The water was very clear and quite deep, the weighted GRHE nymph trundled around nicely but there was no response from the trout.

Millions of midges were hatching and buzzing around in clouds over the river. The tiny flies gathered under the far bank where the air was still but I couldn’t find a rising fish.

I climbed over boulders and weaved around the bankside trees, keeping well hidden, expecting a tug on the rod tip at any moment but something was not right and the rod stayed straight.

I had nearly reached the weir when I heard a trout rise. I stopped and watched from behind a stand of mature trees. The water flowed slowly over a long, shallow pool. A fish rose close to the far bank under a mist of midges. Several other fish rose further down the pool. At last, a fish to target. I flicked a small black gnat across the top of the pool and it was taken but the fish slipped the hook. Nevermind, that was progress. The other trout moved further down the pool where I couldn’t reach them.

Further downstream I found another rising fish. I stood behind a tree trunk and gently cast the fly upstream, I saw the fish take. It was a very dark fish which had the cheek to snag me in the tree roots. I eased it out and quickly returned the angry little trout to the river.

Mill Leat

As I walked back up the path out of the valley, I was tempted back into the woods by the Mill Leat. I saw a couple of fat little trout in only 6″ of water. I made no attempt to hide and they darted off upstream, disappearing in the weedless, crystal clear water. How do they do that ?

The walk out, back to the Defender, was glorious. The dappled sunlight on the freshly watered greenery highlighted the leaves and the various coloured woodland flowers. I hadn’t seen anyone all afternoon. No cars, people or spaniels, excellent.