It was my last chance to fish on Dartmoor before the end of the season. The dog walkers were out in force but I climbed over the fence into the privacy of the wood. I’d seen a black shadow in the pool under the bridge and the fish was feeding. I sat on a log covered with soft green lichen and threaded the line through the rod rings. I used a short tippet and a size 14 nymph. The dark shadow shot across the pool, grabbed the fly and raced under the arch of the bridge. It was my biggest Dartmoor brownie, about 8ozs.
Each pool contained a Trout and I either landed it or lost it. I caught about five fish and in some pools I had several takes. I realised that I had to anticipate the take and be ready to tap home the hook. Concentration was required. A couple of the takes, fishing downstream, were just slow draws, easily mistaken for weed or an Autumn leaf.
The sun was warm and bright, it illuminated the Hazel and Oak leaves. Acorns dropped into the pools from the centuries old trees. The foam in the throat of the pools glowed white and the various coloured rocks on the river bed looked like a tartan rug. The landscape looked like Spring except for the bracken which showed rusty brown under the tree canopy.
The trip was a fitting end to my season on Dartmoor. I’d not seen anyone, I’d caught a few beautiful fish and had spent three hours in unspoilt Devon countryside. It doesn’t get any better than that.
It had suddenly dawned on me that the Devon Trout season was about to end. The weather was good, the rivers were in perfect Autumn condition and the pub was closed. It was time to go fishing. Next season was six months away and it would be a long winter. I grabbed a rod and my bag before indecision delayed my departure from the cottage and headed towards the river. No great thought had gone into my destination and a few minutes later I was coaxing the car down a steep track into the river valley. The sun no longer reached the valley floor, the air was cool and a zillion midges were hatching. A few sedges lumbered into the air only to be snatched by one of the Grey Wagtails.
I chose the fly pattern that I’d had success with on the Plym the previous day, the Copper Ribbed Rabbits Fur (CRRF). As I walked down the track to the Middle Beat I was confident that if I could find a fish, it would take the nymph. I sat on the path beside the throat of a long riffle and flicked the fly into the fast water. The leader drew round and the fly fished deep where the riffle widened and lost speed. There was a tap on the rod and I lifted the fly into the tree behind me. Not a good start. I tied on another fly and worked the water. I connected with the third take and released the little jewel of a Trout before moving downstream to the next pool.
With no trees behind me I cast down and across, feeding a foot of line each cast to cover fresh water. At the tail of the pool beside a rock, the line grew heavy and a good fish swirled. It was on the hook long enough for me to judge its weight. It would have been my best Dartmoor brownie. I fished some of the pools in the middle of the Beat but the light was going and I wanted to get out of the valley before dark. The traction control struggled on the wet rocks but I eventually made it onto flat ground at the expense of two members who graciously reversed up the hill to allow me free passage. I wished them luck with the Sea Trout in the bigger pools of the Top Beat.
The warm rocks had become wet as the moisture in the cold night air condensed like warm breath on a frosty morning. During the ascent out of the valley I’d pushed the Volvo to the limit of its off-road capability and I resolved to bring the Defender to Devon next season.
Heavy rain clouds anchored themselves to the granite tors and remained there until the afternoon. The high moor was shrouded in mist until the warm south westerly summoned enough strength to blow it away. The morning rain kept the dog walkers indoors and freshened up the rivers. The bankside trees were showing signs of Autumn and a steady line of leaves floated down the River Walkham, swirling in the pools, turning and flashing like small Trout.
I was spoilt for choice. The middle of Dartmoor would be deserted but I would be soaked to the waist by the wet bracken and furze before I could cast a line. The moor looked beautiful and very photogenic. That might justify a soaking. The deep river valleys would be dark and misty but the steep rocky tracks were difficult to navigate in the wet even in a 4×4. The AA don’t recover vehicles deep in the forest, miles from the nearest tarmac. It was definitely not worth the risk.
By early afternoon the rain had moved away towards Dorset and the sun had broken through the clouds. I’d decided on the River Plym. I smiled as I drove over the narrow stone bridge, pausing in the middle, the river looked exactly as I had imagined, crystal clear water carrying a patchwork of orange and brown leaves. I chose a size 14 nymph made mainly of rabbit fur with a copper rib and nylon fibres for tail filaments. It was a general representation of an Olive nymph or shrimp.
The first pool produced a good take and a small fish soon came to hand. Further upstream I prepared to search another pool when a Sea Trout about 2lbs leapt vertically and crashed back into the tail water. It jumped again a couple of times and I changed the fly to a black and silver spider. For thirty minutes I cast down and across, anticipating a savage take and screaming reel. Nothing happened. A small fish followed the fly but sheered away in the shallows. I found another Trout in a fast run but it came unstuck.
A good Sea Trout revealed itself in the next big pool but I couldn’t get a take. It appeared that the resident brownies were unsettled by the presence of their bigger, ocean going, brethren. Half way up the Beat the heat and humidity got to me and I returned to the car for water. The river had been kind to me once again both in its beauty and the fishing it provided. In two weeks it will be the end of the fishing season in Devon, I must visit the River Plym again during that time.
The morning was warm and humid with high hazy cloud. The perfect fishing weather gave me confidence and as I drove towards Hampshire, away from the madness of London Europe, anticipation grew. I expected to catch something and to enjoy the scenery. I stopped for diesel and bought a pork pie to further enhance the day.
As I crossed the road bridge I paused to admire the river, the weed was bright green and the water sparkled. I saw a small fish on the gravel shallows, the scene was set for a memorable day. Before setting up my rod I wandered through the trees to look at the top of the Beat. In between the fronds of weed a huge fish became agitated as I watched it from the footbridge. My presence made the Trout uncomfortable and it joined an equally large specimen under my feet, beside the bridge support. They looked about 6lb and I returned with my rod a few minutes later. Unfortunately several eager casts placed the fly on a strand of wire under the bridge and while messing about retrieving it, both fish departed upstream into the next Beat.
I found a small fish on the shallows between two Willows and floated a Black Gnat directly over it on the first attempt. There was no reaction. As I crawled forwards another Trout shot out of the margin and settled near my target. Both fish repeatedly rejected my offerings and eventually disappeared into the weeds. I found fish in every pool but after ninety minutes of concentration and hard work, I’d had no response. While carefully presenting the fly to a brace of good fish lying deep on a patch of gravel, a smaller Trout came from midstream and grabbed the fly. It was a dark coloured Trout about 2lbs and as it rocketed back into the pool I thought that I would celebrate with a Marmite sandwich.
Lunch over I started again at the top of the Beat. The two big fish had not returned but I found several Trout and tried to coax them with different fly patterns and sizes. The fish mainly ignored the flies but several moved aside as the fly passed, returning to their position as it drifted away. They had clearly seen the fly. Thoughts of Sea Trout returned, some of the larger fish were very dark and could have been Salmon.
Near the end of the Beat I found a group of good fish in a large pool on a bend. They were active but unsettled. My first cast alerted a big Trout, it bolted for cover. A few minutes later the smallest fish in the pool grabbed the fly and used the fast current to put up a very spirited fight. It was about 2lbs, the other fish were spooked and I rested the pool. From further downstream I could see a shoal of Sea Trout, resting grey shadows, highlighted against the dark algae on the bottom of the run. They were competing for space and the best lies.
Trout started to show an interest in my flies and a few Sedges hatched. Two fish in thirty minutes bought my tally to four two-pounders and I thought that was sufficient. I’d worked hard, been rewarded and there was no point in continuing. It had been a perfect day and another brace would not feel right, just greedy.
I drove back through Midhurst and detoured via Little Bognor to visit the lakes. The valley was silent and the lakes flat calm but as the light faded several fish started to take buzzers. I couldn’t resist the temptation. My slow sinking buzzer was ignored and it became too dark to tie on a fly.
The bright sunny morning was forecast to turn wet mid-afternoon but Dartmoor has its own microclimate and weather forecasts cannot be relied upon. Rather than wait until the evening, I decided to set off early and find a quiet stretch of river with no spaniels or kids throwing stones.
My first choice was like Butlins; campers, barbecues, dog walkers and swimmers. I drove further downstream, to the next bridge. There were a few dog walker’s cars but they had all gone upstream along the well trodden footpaths. I found a small gap in the overgrown hedge and clambered over a barbed wire fence. The ancient wood was quiet, even the birds were silent. Green lichen covered the trees and massive boulders were scattered around the woodland, put there by spates over hundreds of years. It was a bit spooky and I trod quietly.
The river looked superb; clear and fast, slightly above the normal level. White water forced its way between the boulders and tree roots. Each long wide riffle probably held several Trout, sheltering in slacks and gullies in the bedrock. I chose a small black spider and rolled it down and across, exploring the slower currents, sometimes draping the leader over a rock to cover the deeper water behind the rounded granite. At every pool I was distracted by the beauty of the sunlight on the trees and the sparkling water. I spent considerably more time watching the river than fishing. The river was magical, timeless and unspoilt.
I found a huge boulder at the top of a pool and sat on its upstream side, flicking the fly into water that I was convinced held a fish. I changed the fly to an olive and ginger spider heavily weighted with black wire. I dangled the fly over the boulder and let it sink about four feet towards the hollow scoured out under the rock. The rod bent and a feisty Trout fought well above its weight. It was a little gem and it arrowed back into the fast water when I slipped the barbless hook out of it’s jaw.
Spurred on by the success I explored similar pools but the rod stayed straight. I came to a rock cliff where the path had been blocked by a fallen tree and I was forced to turn back. The air felt thundery and as I drove away from the river it started to rain. I had seen neither people nor dogs. It was a good choice of location and immaculate timing weather-wise.
PS – I visited the Abbey Beat on 7 September and after a long, dodgy off-road drive and a long walk, I realised I’d forgotten my nymph box. It was a nice sunset.