29 September – End of Devon Season

Heavy overnight rain promised a rise in the level of the Dartmoor rivers. I wanted to end the season on my favourite river, the Plym. The autumn scenery in the valley would be beautiful, catching a trout was not important.

As I crossed the bridge I was surprised to see that the river had not risen, if anything it had dropped. I started in the bridge pool with a few practice casts. After retrieving my leader from a tree and replacing the fly I made my way upstream.

I heard noisy children and dogs upstream. At every pool I checked the sand for paw prints and coloured water. The river appeared to be undisturbed. The scenery was a distraction, I spent more time wandering through the woods than fishing. Young pheasants scurried through the undergrowth ahead of me, it felt like a day beating rather than fishing.

I reached the middle of the Beat without troubling any trout and decided to press on until I reached familiar territory below the next road bridge. I scrambled over rock outcrops and around riverside trees looking for grey shadows in the deeper water but the sea trout had continued their journey upstream to the spawning grounds. A young buzzard landed in the top of an oak tree directly above me, scanned the ground, saw nothing and moved on.

I eventually reached a clearing in the woods that I recognised. The silica on the coarse sandy beach sparkled in the sunlight, paw marks and footprints were everywhere. I broke my rod down and walked slowly back downstream. I’d had a lovely walk in the autumn sunshine which I would remember through the long winter evenings.

26 September – Burrator

The north wind was blustery, swirling around as it passed over Leather Tor and dipped down into the steep sided valley. The clouds moved quickly across the blue sky, creating patches of sunlight on Down Tor to the East and the steep side of Sheeps Tor to the South.

The water level was very low, a rocky beach stretched around the entire circumference of the reservoir. The wall along the north bank, normally submerged, was ten feet above the water level. Coarse sand filled the gaps between the granite boulders along the shoreline which prevented the wavelets from colouring the margins. The water was crystal clear and the trout would have no trouble finding my flies.

I started on a point where I had seen a fish move a couple of hours earlier. The smooth sandy bottom dropped away quickly a rod length out. The wind was mainly left to right but violently switched direction every few minutes. The fish were feeding high in the water and I decided to start with an unweighted black spider. I cast the line across the wind and let it form a long bow, in the style of Arthur Cove. When the wind was helpful I fed the fly line out under the rod tip and watched it drift out into the bay. After an hour I decided that I needed a weighted fly, the spider was skating across the surface in the high wind.

I swapped to a heavy Red Tag which anchored the leader and produced a steady curve in the fly line. A splashy take was followed by a series of long runs which helped me sort out the tangles and get the fish onto the reel. I was surprised at the size of the rainbow, it fought well above its weight and shrunk as it entered the landing net. I released the trout.

Halfway through a drift I saw a rise to my right, lifted off and presented the fly accurately. Another fighting fit rainbow hit the fly and took line, I thought it might be bigger than the first trout but it was identical in colour and size. I also released that fish.

I got into a rhythm and expected to catch a few more. Thirty minutes later I had a tap on the line but I couldn’t induce the fish to take properly. An hour later I had another half-hearted inquiry but didn’t convert it.

The wind dropped which prevented me from drifting the fly effectively and made the fly line more visible. I was exhausted from constant casting in the blustery wind and decided not to fish the evening rise. I had caught sufficient.

20 September – River Tamar

The Defender electrickery foiled any plans for long, offroad forays into deep valleys and forests. A completely flat battery and dead dashboard brought its efficient Swedish counterpart into play and distance was therefore no object. A relaxing drive across the border into Cornwall and a not so relaxing walk across the fileds, found me on the banks of the River Tamar. I had the Beat to myself.

The river was a little coloured and at its normal level. It was overcast and warm, perfect fishing conditions. I started at the bottom of the Beat and walked slowly upstream looking for fish. Most of the rising fish were under the trees along the far bank, well out of range. Occasionally an acorn plopped into the river, I was familiar with the noise and ignored it. A lone kingfisher zoomed upstream and a buzzard mewed high above me near the cloud base.

I didn’t fish any of the slow stretches, I could see the rocks and boulders on the riverbed but no fish. I climbed down the ladder at the first riffle and perched on a large rock. I had just enough room for a side cast both upstream and downstream. I chose a weighted GRHE nymph and scoured the pool methodically for about an hour without any response. The pool below the riffle was the only deep water in the middle of the Beat and I was convinced that it held fish.

I’d caught a couple of grayling in the pool on a previous trip and I thought a change of fly might help. I chose a heavy wet fly with a red tag, which would sink quickly in the fast water and would be more visible than the drab GRHE nymph.

I worked the fly down the bubble line and soon had a positive take. The snake-like wriggling and thumps on the rod told me it was a grayling. The fish was in pristine condition and departed at high speed. It was satisfying to have changed tactics and been rewarded so quickly. I imagined a small shoal of grayling in the slow, deep water waiting for tasty morsels to drift past. The fish had taken my fly about twenty yards down the pool. I threw a loop across the current and fed out line until the distance seemed right. A couple of drifts later I had a very solid take, the fish stayed deep and was obviously much bigger. I eased the grayling towards me but the hook pinged out just as I raised the rod to grasp the fish.

A few minutes later, as the fly drifted through the same part of the pool, I had another violent take. Another long fight, with the fish staying deep in the fast water, resulted in a big grayling which came safely to hand. I was in the zone but the takes petered out. Twenty minutes later I had a tap on the rod much further down the pool. Either the fish had moved downstream, out of reach, or the shoal had been spooked.

I walked upstream to the next riffle where the water was faster and shallower. I immediately caught a very small grayling. I knew that I wouldn’t catch anything else, so I climbed back up the ladder and wandered downstream. I dabbled a fly in a few deep runs but with little conviction. I had caught sufficient. It had been an excellent afternoon.

15 September – River Tavy

Summer had come to an end, the morning was chilly and the lawn had a silvery coating. The leaves were starting to turn and the roses were all dead. I checked the end date for the Devon trout season and was surprised to see that I only had a couple of weeks left. It’s the same date every year and therefore it should not have been a surprise !

The bright sunshine and gusty wind dictated a sheltered river valley and I chose the River Tavy mainly because of the lovely scenery, a trout would be a bonus. I started later than normal, arriving at the river mid-afternoon, planning to fish until dusk.

The river looked great, slightly above the normal summer level and with a little colour. Perfect conditions. I managed to loop the line around a reel pillar while setting up and the line felt odd until I realised and started afresh. While I re-strung the rod I saw an osprey directly overhead, just above the tree canopy. I checked later and it had also been reported over Lopwell. That lifted my spirits and I fished down the runs confident that I would find a few fish.

I reached a wide riffle with a long flat downstream and decided to sit on a rock while covering the water. I misjudged the position of the rock and ended up sitting in the river. The water temperature was about 13 degrees. I laughed and tried to remember the last time I had fallen in the river. I couldn’t recall, it must have been years ago.

I rolled the line across the main current and drifted the nymph down and across the likely holding places on the edge of the bubble line. I had a tap on the rod but missed it. The bedrock had been exposed during the spates, deep crevices and holes must have held trout but I could not encourage them to take the fly.

The sunlight became a grey overcast and a few upwing flies hatched. A couple of trout rose in midstream and I changed to a dry fly. I waited for a fish to reveal it’s position and flicked the fly well above the rise. Nothing. The first cast had failed and the fish went down. I felt a bit chilly in my wet clothes and at dusk I left the river fishless but having enjoyed the scenery and wildlife.

7 September – River Plym

Several days of heavy showers had raised the level of the rivers. Dartmoor filtered most of the rain and after a couple of days of road run off, the dirt dropped out to leave clean water. The colour changed from end-of-barrel-murky-bitter to fresh lager. I watched the trout from the bridge over the River Walkham, they had taken up positions behind ledges and rocks, darting out to taste passing debris.

The rain had cleared away the wild swimmers and spaniels. Rock throwing kids had gone back to school and I had a wide choice of undisturbed Beats to fish. The unpredictable weather ruled out long walks into the centre of the moor, it was too dangerous. The rapidly changing light prompted me to choose a stretch of the River Plym in a deep valley where I could spend time with both the camera and the rod.

I started in the bridge pool with an upstream nymph. The usual size 14 Gold Ribbed Hares Ear nymph trundled around beside the cutwater and was taken confidently by an immaculate brownie. A simple approach had been effective, a tapered nylon leader and two knots, to tippet and to fly. No beads, no droppers and no trendy modern rig with furled leader, rings and loops. The soggy fly looked remarkably like Gammarus, the freshwater shrimp.

I felt that the pool held other trout and extended my casts further upstream under the arch of the bridge. A tap on the rod confirmed my thoughts. I changed fly and flicked the Black Pennell into the fast water. It was ignored, the little trout had gone into hiding.

I walked slowly down the Beat, fishing some of the pools with an upstream nymph, occasionally hanging around tree trunks, dabbling the nymph through white water, mainly fishing down and across where access was restricted by the steep rock strewn banks. I found trout in most pools. My long term average was maintained; half the takes converted – half of hooked fish landed.

Big troop carrying helicopters thundered overhead, just above the tree tops. At Bickleigh, just a mile upstream, 42 Commando were loading themselves and their kit onboard HMS Albion moored in Plymouth Sound. The atmosphere in the deep valley was quite spooky. The tree canopy kept the humidity high. The lichen covered branches, the ferns among the granite boulders and the twisted boughs looked like a screen grab from Jurassic Park. The woods were silent, pheasants strutted around like velociraptors and the helicopters provided an apocalyptic sound track.

I rested on the bench in the middle of the Beat. I had spent the majority of the afternoon watching the river and taking photos. It had been a memorable three hours. The next morning, after a night of torrential rain, the River Walkham had risen a foot and the roar of the weir could be heard in my cottage. I had timed my trip perfectly.