15 September – River Plym

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.

10 September – River Itchen

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.

2 September – River Plym

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.

27 August – River Itchen

Rain was forecast for the afternoon and as I woke early, it seemed sensible to leave the house without breakfast. The traffic was light and I arrived in good spirits to fish a Beat that I had been rained-off a few weeks earlier, the Long Reach.

The air was heavy with the scent of new mown grass and the river looked in excellent condition, flowing fast and with a hint of colour from the heavy rain the day before. I peeped over the neatly trimmed marginal plants and saw three fish in the first pool. They were active, a great way to start the day. I soon got into a routine of presenting a dry fly and after several casts, quietly retreating to select another. Each change of fly boosted my confidence for a few minutes until it too was ignored. I was convinced that each change of fly would immediately provoke a take but of course, nothing happened. I decided to rest the fish and move upstream.

I found a couple of fish in a narrow run just above an overhanging Willow. The casts were well measured and accurate but each fly was ignored by both fish. On my last visit I had spent a lot of time trying to tempt fish from a large shoal only to be later informed that they were Sea Trout. I had been wasting my time and I wondered if I was repeating that error. One of the Trout was a very light colour and looked like a wild brownie. I repeated the present-ignore-change cycle at several more pools on my way to the top of the Beat. None of the fish showed the slightest interest in my offerings.

During the walk back to the bottom of the Beat I found a group of very large fish under the near bank in a deep run. After a sandwich and drink I felt energised, Red Bull has that effect, ready for a successful afternoon. I fished each of the pools again using all my secret weapons but the fish were indifferent. Parachute flies, neoprene buzzers and Black Gnats all failed to stir the Trout into action.

The group of large fish in the deep run were active and I thought this was my best chance. A big dark coloured specimen turned and followed my fly downstream but showed no sign of taking. I think it was just changing it’s lie. I walked back to the bottom of the Beat to start my third journey upstream but just as I started to plan an attack the forecast rain arrived and I realised I had run out of time. The poor light and rain drops obscured all of the sub-surface activity. It’s no fun fishing blind on a chalkstream and I called it a day.

24 August – Keepers Bridge

Storm Francis approached from the Atlantic and threatened to spoil the fishing for a few days. I’d planned to take a guest to the Rother and visit the Itchen but both trips looked unlikely. The Rother was a bit high but I made a last minute decision to spend a couple of hours there, a quiet walk in the Sussex countryside before the storm.

I parked on the edge of the wood, the cool damp tunnel of trees was dark and a couple of Wood Pigeons called to each other. The new released, tatty Pheasant poults wandered around the track and the margins of the river puzzled by their new found freedom and lack of food. As I emerged from the wood a male Sparrow Hawk left its perch high in one of the Alder trees and settled in a big Oak further downstream. A large Buzzard was using the blustery wind to explore the field across the river, young Pheasants are easy pickings.

The contrast between the mellow lowland river and the frantic, young Dartmoor streams was marked. The grass was soft and easy to kneel upon but the fish-holding lies were not so obvious. The Beat below Keepers Bridge looked good, there were plenty of Alder trees and clumps of streamer weed to provide shelter for the Trout. I took time to practice my casting which was unusually accurate. The sun was bright and I knew that I had to get the fly close to the tree roots and weedbeds, fishing in open water would be a waste of time.

The gusty wind helped curl the leader into places that would normally be out of bounds but the fish were not impressed with the trick shots. I worked the fly around the weeds on the shallow sandy stretch above the bridge where a wild fish lives. I heard a rise and saw the ripples close to the far bank under the rushes. I dropped the fly upstream of the rise and the line tightened as the fish took. It fought like a four pounder but shrunk to about two pounds in the net. I was a little surprised to catch a fish so soon but I was happy with the result.

I moved downstream to a deep pool below an Alder tree where, after a couple of casts, the leader hesitated and slowly the line drew taught. Two slow takes, two hooked fish and two successfully landed. That was well above my average.

I walked downstream to the New Riffle but the water was too shallow and weedy to hold fish. The wind got up and dark clouds billowed over the Downs. I decided to leave while still dry. I hadn’t expected to catch much and two good fish were a bonus.