6 July – River Rother

The crystal clear water in the Itchen and the Dartmoor rivers had demanded the most perfect presentation. Even with a delicately presented upstream dry fly the Trout had proved ultra fussy and they were quick to reject anything that looked suspicious.

When I arrived at Keepers Bridge I smiled at the green tint in the water and the leisurely way the current rolled around the bends. The river was in no hurry. The margins of the river were decorated with shoulder high sedges intermingled with highlights of colour from the wild flowers. It looked perfect. There were a few Mayfly hatching and the occasional sedge but at 3:00pm on a bright July afternoon, the fish were not going to rise. Late in the evening perhaps but it was too early for a dry fly. I chose a weighted black spider and decided to work methodically through the pools that always hold a fish or two.

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It was good to be able to explore the water down and across the current, the pace was slow. Not the frantic retrieve necessary to keep in touch with a nymph in a tumbling moorland stream. I felt that I was in control and that I could work every clump of streamer weed and the deep runs under the banks. I started in the pool below the first Alder tree which has always been very kind to me.

The ground was warm and rock hard. It was easy to shuffle along on my backside down the length of the pool covering every inch of water. At the end of the pool I lifted the fly from behind a sparse clump of streamer weed and a good fish followed it up. There was a satisfying thump on the rod and battle commenced. As usual the landing net had failed to keep up with my progress down the pool and I encouraged the fish to swim upstream. As I turned to pick up the net I allowed a little slack line and the fish was away. My fault.

I started to fish the Sandy Pool about half-way down expecting to find a fish in the tail of the pool. The take came under the far bank and the fish summersaulted across the pool. I played it hard, not wanting the barbless hook to drop out. My landing net was at hand and I made no mistake. It was a lovely Trout, golden orange and fin perfect. It swam away from the net strongly. I fished the long straight pool and saw a good Sea Trout leap vertically from the water. It was not interested in my fly but I thought I would rest the fish and try again later.

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I walked upstream to the Old Riffle and put a fly in all the usual holding places but there was no response. I returned to the Sea Trout but it didn’t take, it may have continued its journey upstream.

I’d caught a Trout and was satisfied. I might have caught another if I’d stayed on for the evening rise but I was content with one fish. I would be able to face the wild brownies on Dartmoor reinvigorated.

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2 July – River Itchen

As I arrived, just after noon, it started to rain. I sat in the car and laughed. The soaking on my previous visit was fresh in my memory. The light shower passed over and ten minutes later the intense sunlight pierced through the fast moving clouds. I tackled up my Southwell “Blagdon” and walked to the top of the Beat in shirt sleeves. A couple of casts later I decided that the rod was not right for the river, it was too powerful. Another shower sent me scurrying back to the car for a change of rod and a jacket.

I returned to the river as a weather front passed over. The air temperature soared and it became very humid. The blue bottles drove me mad and I was grateful when the air freshened and the wind increased. I had not fished “The Bends” before and it was good to explore a new stretch of river and admire the scenery. I found a group of fish in a deep pool and thought that one would soon be visiting me on the bank. For about an hour everything was a shambles. I hooked every piece of greenery, rod wrapped and splashed the fly down. As I became more frustrated the problems deepened. I knew that I needed a break and returned to the car for a late brunch. I abandoned the jacket.

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I resolved to keep calm and take my time when I returned to the fish in the deep pool. A Trout rose and turned to follow my fly downstream but sheered away and disappeared. The wind made it difficult to present the fly in the channel but on the odd occasion when it drifted over a fish there was no response.

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I moved up the Beat and found a couple of lone fish on the shallows but they were very spooky and drifted into cover. A deep run under my bank held a fish and my spirits lifted when a good Trout took the fly. They were dashed a few seconds later when it flashed it’s flank and came unstuck. I moved on and made a note to return to the run later.

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I worked hard for six hours, walking up and down the Beat, creeping around behind cover and only resting a few minutes between pools to relax my back and shoulder muscles. The wind was strong and flukey but the nature of the Beat ensured that I could find situations where I could present a fly upstream with the wind behind me.

I returned to the deep run and a nice Grayling took the fly. It was nice to catch something towards the end of the day, it was a suitable reward for my efforts.

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25-26 June – River Walkham

25 June – The Village

I wished the little fish ‘Good Morning‘ from the top of the cutwaters, they were regularly dimpling the surface inspecting floating debris, testing to see if it was food. That might be why I miss so many fish. The forecast decreed temperatures in the high twenties, much too hot for fishing, followed by thunderstorms.

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The rain arrived at 8:00pm and I popped across to the flats above the weir with just my rod and a small box of dry flies. The fish were rising and I had high hopes. Each time I presented the fly, upstream, the Trout melted away. Even a fish beside the near bank, close to a bed of weed, disappeared. I persisted until the rain became to heavy to see the rise forms. It was a quick evening experiment, perhaps I should have used a lighter tippet.

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26 June – Dartmoor

It was an overcast morning with a gentle southerly breeze, there would never be a better day for visiting the moor. My last two attempts to fish the upper reaches of the Walkham had both been abandoned. The first because I hadn’t found the Beat and the second because of freezing fog.

This would not be a leisurely stroll, the Beat was deep in the moor and miles from the nearest road. I took the bare minimum, a box of dry flies and a few nymphs. No landing net, the fish would be small. I stupidly decided to wear wellies, big mistake. I also forgot to take a flask of water. I did remember the map, my phone had a compass and OS grid references.

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I walked uphill for nearly an hour, the top of the Tor was only half way to the river. The fog cleared as I contoured around the clitter and scrambled down into the valley. There were Sky Larks everywhere and a pair of Buzzards wheeled on the thermals generated by the warm rocks.

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I sat on the soft dry grass beside the river and relaxed. The gruelling two hour climb and descent had taken all of my energy. The valley ran north-south and the upstream wind helped with presentation. I experimented with various dry flies and nymphs in the first pool to get the hang of it, nothing responded.  I worked my way upstream dropping a nymph into pools and had a couple of tweaks but I was too slow to connect. I came to a shallow flat and as I crouched down, I saw a Trout turn, it hadn’t seen me. I flicked a sedge into midstream and the fish immediately rose. I missed. I missed it again five minutes later when it rose under the far bank.

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Further upstream I saw a fish rise just below a narrow riffle. The presentation was good and the fish responded. Twice. I missed again. I made a note of a rock on the far bank for my return journey. I walked upstream, occasionally checking the weather behind me, I didn’t want to get caught in fog or rain. On the way back I stopped at the rock, the fish obliged but I failed to connect. Again.

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I packed up the rod and carefully chose a route back along a boundary wall, climbing the Tor once again. I stopped frequently, taking in the stunning scenery and the cloudscape while watching Bodmin Moor on the western horizon for any signs of bad weather.

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It was a tough walk out. Nearing the summit I had a second wind but I still struggled to make it back to the car. I had a long cold drink and sat in the soft leather drivers seat with the aircon on maximum blast for thirty minutes before I felt I could drive home. I had walked about seven miles over rough ground which is surprising at my age. I probably won’t do it again. Particularly in wellies.

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24 June – River Tavy

It had been a roasting hot day, kids played in the weir pool until the evening, shouting, screaming and having a great time. The breeze was warm and the sky cloudless. I watched the children wading around on the bedrock from my vantage point high on the old bridge. The fish were not unduly worried, they drifted away from the little white feet and hid in crevices or behind stones. The water level had dropped about a foot in four days and the water was clearer than a chalk stream.

I waited until the sun went down before leaving the house and thought about the Beat on the short drive to the valley. The journey had become familiar and the final plunge down the rock strewn track held no fears. I’d walked the Beat in March and remembered the long straight valley, the sides of which were covered in an old pine forest. It looked like an advert for ‘Consulate‘ cigarettes filmed in the wilds of Alaska. There were hundreds of Grey Wagtails on the rocks and a kingfisher zoomed upstream. The darkness of the fir trees somehow enhanced it’s electric blue plumage.

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I walked upstream and tried some tricks with the silk line. Spey casting and roll casting don’t present a dry fly well. I rose a couple of fish but I was not quick enough. I’m used to the slow motion rise of an Itchen monster or the yank of a Rother two pounder. The little moorland brownies were very quick to eject a fly. Olives were hatching all along the river but although I persisted with with a size 14 Olive, the fish were more interested in the Iron Blue.

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I moved downstream to the fishing hut and spent the rest of the evening trying to tempt a fish from the long wide pool under a big Oak. The small resident fish moved away as I encroached on their lies. A couple of Sea Trout leapt but as darkness fell I left the pool and walked back to the car. Although I hadn’t caught anything, I was content that I was on the right track.

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23 June – Rivers Walkham and Tavy

The River Walkham

My intuition told me to fish the River Walkham, the river level had dropped and the water was crystal clear. From the garden I’d watched Trout taking Olives in the soft evening light, zooming around over the bedrock and rising to intercept the flies with a little splash. Grey Wagtails were flitting from rock to rock, wagging and picking off the larger insects.

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The river at Grenofen looked spectacular, it was reminiscent of a BB water colour. However, I felt out of place amongst the dog walkers, boys on rope swings, inflatable boats, picnickers and swimmers. To my surprise the fish were rising and were obviously used to the commotion. I sat on a flat rock and watched a fish rise a few times at the tail of a small pool. It took the Iron Blue and dashed around in the fast water.

After I had released it a black spaniel launched itself into the pool, that was too much. I considered whacking it with my rod tip but it’s young owner appeared and I decided to leave the river. Trout were rising but I’d had enough. I made a mental note not to fish there until late, preferably when it’s raining.

The River Tavy

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I drove to the Lower Beat on the Tavy, there were no spaniels in sight. It was a long steep descent into the river valley. Fish were rising all over the long wide pool beside the towering rock wall. I crouched on a small croy and flicked an Iron Blue into the seam at the edge of the main current.  A fish rose but I missed it and that sequence of events continued for an hour as I moved further down the pool.

I walked up the Beat and was content to sit and watch the water as it raced through narrows, scoured the base of the rock outcrops and dashed off towards the old water mill. On the return I heard a nightingale and stopped to listen. The peace of the valley was in stark contrast to the earlier bedlam, it was a relaxing end to a long, hot and exhausting day.

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