13 May – Photo Shoot

Modelling is not normally part of my fishing trips. Our catwalk would follow the edge of the wood and the backdrop would be the towering pine trees high above the river on the valley sides. The weather would keep dog walkers, stone throwers and the paparazzi away from the Tavy. Heavy rain was forecast for dusk but I could fish and pose for a couple of hours before then. The soft drizzle wafted down from a pale grey overcast, perfect for fishing but tricky for the photographer. I was ready to go long before our appointed meeting, full of enthusiasm and confidence.

Several days earlier the Defender had rumbled along the minor roads westward and squeezed into its new home, my garage in Devon. I chose a low gear and let the old truck find its own way down the steep, rocky track to the valley floor, it looked at home among the primeval woodland. I was confident that we could climb back up the track. If the Land Rover electrickery behaved itself.

The scenery was stunning. We both felt privileged to be in such an unspoilt environment. The deep sides of the valley and the tall trees sheltered us from the gentle breeze. It was silent, warm and overcast, perfect. The soft rain was barely noticeable but I wore my lucky hat anyway. I also found a few toffees in the bottom of my bag, it was a sign from Izaac that everything was well.

The river was dropping after heavy rain. The crests of the broken water were pale cream and the deep water, the colour of Fuller’s London Pride. The river rushed past ferociously but there were plenty of slacks and back eddies to explore.

The fast coloured water was not the place for a nymph. I chose a traditional fly, the Teal, Blue and Silver tied on a small, long-shank hook. I started near the top of the Beat and swung the fly through the slack water behind a big rock. My first cast produced a heavy take and the rod bucked as a green plastic bag fought to escape. Great rod bending material for the camera. I’d underestimated the current, down and across lasted about five seconds. I moved upstream to a wide riffle that looked like a kayak slalom course. After a few casts I moved downstream and found a long deep run under the near bank. I got into a rhythm; cast, mend, hang and take a step. I was hopeful of a take and enjoyed searching a seam only a couple of rod lengths out. I was oblivious of the long lens recording events.

I had saved the best pool until dusk, the light was failing as I crept out to the end of a rock pier. I had a hundred yards of deep, slow moving water with the main current running along the far bank. I rolled the fly into the current and let the line stream out. I retrieved the fly slowly allowing it to sink into the slack. Every cast I extended the line and worked the fly further into the pool.

A good take made me laugh nervously. I’d hooked a fish for the camera, excellent. I preyed the fish would stick and cautioned against premature celebrations. Inevitably as the Trout came to hand it got smaller. It was a beautiful fish which showed signs of migration, the lack of colour and dark fins suggested a Sea Trout smolt. It was a plump fish which was keen to get back on it’s journey to Plymouth Sound. It was a good time to leave, we were both in good spirits having achieved our respective goals and the Defender fired up at the first turn of the key.

5 May – Great Springs

The river level had risen after the Bank Holiday rain and I wanted to see if the Mayfly were hatching at Little Springs. I hoped to have the lakes to myself but I was surprised at the number of members around the fishing hut. A rod was bending and spirits were high, surely I could christen Southwell IV with a Trout on a Mayfly. I checked the long grass between the lakes but I couldn’t see any sign of life except a solitary crane fly. The trees were not in leaf, the buds were very small. A number of Trout were rising but it was not clear why.

I felt very confident that I would catch a few fish and loaded Southwell IV with the little Hardy Marquis and the new Rio line. Long distance casting would not be necessary, a stealthy approach was needed. The wind was blustery and constantly changing direction. I sat on the bench on the point at Great Springs which gave me an all round view of the rises and helped casting. The wind was generally from the north west and it was cold. The plan was to drift a weighted nymph across the wind and watch the tip of the line. Arthur Cove style.

After twenty minutes intense concentration the line dragged and I lifted carefully into a fish that didn’t realise it was hooked. The Trout woke up and went on a near thirty yard slanting run across the lake. I knew it was close to thirty yards because there was only a couple of turns of fly line left on the reel. It was a blue Trout and fought hard but the hook pinged out as it approached the net. Probably foul hooked, hence the angled run. Nevermind, there were plenty of fish rising.

I changed the GRHE for a longer pattern which looked more like a Mayfly nymph. As the line blew into a gentle curve on my left, I thought something looked odd and lifted the rod slowly. The fish flashed, tightened the line and was gone. I was pleased that the tactics were working but the Southwell jinx nagged me.

I moved to the main bank but the rain drove me back to the hut. The rain eased and I started casting a dry Mayfly, with an extended body, at rising fish. A Trout gulped the fly down and I missed. I lifted too soon. I searched the west side of the lake but grew cold and as the rain got heavier, I decided to call it a day.

Although I hadn’t landed a Trout I had spent an enjoyable afternoon chasing Mayfly and taking their portrait. Actually, I’d spent the majority of the time paddling in the margins and laying flat over the water. The cover image of the female dun made the trip a success.

3 May – Keepers Bridge

Gales and torrential rain were forecast for Bank Holiday Monday evening and the river would be unfishable for the rest of the week. I planned to fish before the bad weather arrived. I’d rescued the Defender from storage in the barn but it was full of precious things ready for the journey West and therefore remained at home. I knew where to fish, the pools from Keeper’s Bridge to the New Riffle would give me a chance of a Trout whatever the wind direction.

The bluebells in the wood beside the river were past their best but the white buds of the wild garlic were just starting to open and soon the whole valley would smell like an Italian kitchen. At Keeper’s Bridge the breeze was downstream. An Alder tree had fallen across the river and provided excellent cover for the fish. The bright sunshine was behind me and I crawled into place on the damp grass. Southwell IV and the Rio Small Stream line were a perfect match. The main body of the line suited the width of the river and the long rod enabled a roll cast to the far bank. I fished hard for twenty minutes with a weighted nymph, anticipating a thump on the split cane at any moment. I was surprised and slightly puzzled not to get a take and moved a few yards downstream.

The streamer weed waved in the current a couple of feet under the surface and I flicked the nymph into the end of the fronds. A golden flash deep down resulted in a brief contact, I had lifted the rod too quickly and messed up the first take. Again. I wondered if the rod was jinxed.

The wind got stronger as I worked my way downstream. The river had been purged by the winter floods but some of the old fish holding features were still there. The New Riffle looked perfect but the fast water and downstream wind whipped the fly round too quickly.

I had a few casts in each pool on the way back upstream but the wind made it difficult to get a line out. In the shelter of the old railway embankment and tall trees, I settled down beside the First Pool to explore the long weedbed along the near bank. After a few minutes a fish rose under the nymph and as it took, I lifted the rod. Too soon. Again. I was a bit miffed. Moreover, I had run out of toffees.

Dark clouds and gale force, blustery winds signalled the end of fishing. I pondered on my amateurish attempts to catch a fish all the way home. I had been too keen to christen my new rod and rusty at the start of a long season. Things would improve.

28 April – River Plym

Four days ago I strolled along the bank of the Tavy admiring the scenery and marvelling at the clarity of the water. Each granite pebble sparkled in the intense sunlight streaming from a cloudless sky. The weather and scenery attracted Metal Micky, a magnet fisher, who trashed the pool I had carefully approached on all fours. He  was accompanied by aquatic dogs, mountain bikers and paddling kids. I worked several pools and riffles but left the river recollecting the advice to “fish mid-week in the rain”.

Wednesday seemed to fit the bill. A chill north easterly and the threat of heavy rain would ensure peace and quiet. I decided to fish the River Plym which was sure to be deserted. The dull overcast filtered the daylight although the bright green shoots and leaves shone brightly on the branches overhanging the river.

I was looking forward to fishing the pool below the bridge but the deep water failed to surrender a Trout. I made my way downstream, pausing at each pool and riffle to work the GRHE nymph down the bubble lines and around the eddies.

A small fish eventually grabbed the fly but fell off within seconds. The take boosted my confidence and I concentrated on the line, ready to react to any unusual movement. I found the scenery a big distraction. The highlights on the turbulent water, the lime green of the young leaves and the colour variations of the granite boulders formed a kaleidoscope that was hard to ignore.

I wandered down the path through the ancient woodland, peering into the gorge, looking for signs of fish in the deeper water. My progress was eventually halted  by a fallen tree and a sheer rock face. I retraced my steps satisfied with the combination of the fishing and the relaxing effect of the wooded river valley. It’s good to catch a Trout occasionally but it’s not essential.

20 April – River Tamar

I crossed the border into Cornwall, on a bright warm afternoon, to fish the River Tamar for the first time.  The conditions were not ideal but I wanted to walk the Beat and find the fish holding areas. I walked across the field to the bottom of the Beat and sat on the grass to watch the river. Grannom and Olives were hatching and a few fish were rising in the bubble lane along the far bank. There was a lot of Spring tree debris on the surface of the water and fishing a dry fly was pointless, the Trout would never distinguish the fly from the catkins and Hawthorn petals.

I tied on a size 14 weighted GRHE which would imitate both an Olive nymph and a Grannom. Flicking it beyond the gravel bed under my bank was tricky with a restricted back cast and a ten foot drop to the water. The new small stream line from Rio helped me roll cast about ten yards. After a few casts there was a twitch of the leader but I was too slow. A few minutes later a brownie grabbed the fly and charged around the river putting an end to the rise in that pool. It was my first West Country trout of the season and was very welcome.

I moved upstream and lost a small fish on the same fly. As I wandered further upstream the hatch seemed to peter out. Access to some of the pools was down a long aluminium builder’s ladder which was a bit hairy. The river bed was layered with rocky slabs covered with brown algae, wading was out of the question even in low water levels.

I reached the top of the Beat, turned and walked slowly back to where I had started. I hoped to see a fish moving but the hatch had ended. After the walk back to the car I was hot and thirsty, I must remember to take a flask of chilled water.

It had been an interesting afternoon. The combination of a wide river, overhanging trees and very difficult access to water level had been a challenge. I’ll visit the Tamar again in a few weeks when the trees are in leaf and the Trout have shelter from the sun.