Of all the places you might choose to go fishing in Devon, Dartmoor has to be one of the most spectacular looking. Apart from the numerous tourists who dip their feet in the water each summer though, you don’t see too many other anglers. Trying to buck that trend, I joined fellow angler Zoe Latham and Fallon’s Angler scribe Bruno Vincent for a days fishing and filming across several locations.
I try to make at least one trip to the moors each summer. It is truly wild fishing and a fascinating landscape to explore. Some readers will know it’s also the subject of one of my favourite tales from the book Crooked Lines, which throws the odd eerie tale and prison break in amongst the flies.
Dartmoor is cooler and more unforgiving than the lowlands. It can be very tough in the early season, but from May to September sport can be electric. It’s cheap too, with a Duchy of Cornwall fishing permit at just £10 (you can buy on the day from the Two Bridges Hotel or the little shop in Postbridge or see www.westcountryangling.com). At this price, and with so many fish in the rivers and often plenty of casting space, it is a great place to catch your first wild trout and so it’s a location I often take others for guided fly fishing sessions.
The fish might be small here typically, but there is a great variety of water. There are shallow runs ideal for dry fly fishing, but also plenty of rushing, boulder infested water where close quarters nymphing or even Tenkara would be a great option.
After meeting at Postbridge, our mission started near the Cherry brook on the Dart, but with only one or two rises we quickly moved to Bellever (above). In the summer you can expect plenty of tourists and kids kicking (and swimming) about. Nor can you blame them, because they are blissfully unaware how easily they bugger up the trout fishing.
The answer on the moor is always to walk a bit further. Even on the busiest days, human traffic quickly thins out the further you get from car parks. At last we were getting some rises too! I had a race against time with the added pressure of the camera on a nice pool where a fish had just risen, but two little tearaways were just getting changed into wet-suits for a plunge.
Having failed on the dry fly, I added a tiny nymph to the cast and was quickly rewarded. Two more followed before the kids jumped in, including a trout so tiny, the General wouldn’t have made it look big. Size is seldom the point with such wild fish though and there is something special about a Dartmoor trout. They have it tough on the moor, their big heads and lean, boldly spotted bodies a testament to their harsh environment. The fish of these peaty waters are distinctly darker too (quite unlike the buttery gold fish of the River Exe and Culm). Some are almost black-gold and they have the biggest, fiercest spots.
I couldn’t get them going on a dry and the best fly on the day for me was a Flashback PTN (above), a fly that always scores well for me. It’s a river fly on my must have list and one of my set of Stream Favourites from Turrall flies (which features ten of the best for just £8, ideal for stocking up, or for those of you who don’t tie your own).
Despite my takes on the nymphs though, I might have been advised to scale up an persist with the dries, because it was Zoe who caught the best fish of the lot on a size 14 Sedge. An absolute belter for Dartmoor, a trout of this size could be a very old fish. It was in breathtakingly good condition too, no worse for a brief meeting with a barbless hook as we watched it swim off. All fishing up here is catch-and-release, for the record, in spite of every other tourist asking “Have you caught your dinner?”.
Hexworthy came next, which provides a different experience altogether. It is another popular spot with easy parking and plenty of summer swimmers and grockels, so it’s best to walk a little upstream to fish. Here, you’ll find some epic tumbling waters too. There are lots of boulders and deeper pockets and pools to scramble into.
I love this kind of fishing. You have to climb, duck and scramble to get the best from the fishing. I managed to sneak into lots of nice pockets, often popping just two or three casts into each gap. Very much cast and move stuff.
I found myself wondering if I should have packed Czech Nymph gear, such was the flow and depth in places, but persisted with a duo of Hi-Vis Klinkhamer and Flashback PTN. I had a tiny fish on the dry, then a better seven-incher, before getting a much livelier sample on the nymph.
Sod’s law then, that the others and cameraman Dan were grabbing some lunch at the Forest Inn, but I wasn’t too worried. While my best trout of the day wasn’t recorded, neither was my slip amongst the rocks where I managed to graze my elbow. Luckily I had taken the precaution to put my phone in a sealable bag.
Our last stop was the charming spot by The Two Bridges Hotel, a lovely place to stop on a summer’s day. The promise of a pint or a spot of lunch at the hotel is often a great alibi for some fly fishing too, and you can also get your day ticket here.
As you can see from the picture above of Zoe wading a run, it’s pretty and rocky in all the right places. There is good space for casting too, although we were met with fierce downstream winds that made presentation a bit of a nightmare.
You can catch right by the hotel, and we saw small fish rising, but we headed out through the boggy grass to get to the less explored bits. On my way through some rocks I also spotted the zi-zagged back of an adder! You’ll forgive me if I couldn’t get a picture, but I was more intent on taking a couple of steps backwards and apparently they don’t like posing for selfies anyway.
So where were the fish? When they are up and rising, you can sometimes get takes by the dozen here. Recent rains might have had some impact. Acid rain is certainly an issue on Dartmoor, and fish can migrate or move to side streams when there is a sudden influx of water. The Westcountry Rivers Trust have been involved in a PH balancing project just this year, in fact, to try and help salmon as well as these moorland trout.
In the end then, we had to content ourselves with a pint of Dartmoor IPA at the Two Bridges, to draw breath and take stock of challenging but enjoyable day. I’ll keep you posted as to when the film is live online.
As for my other work, lots of other things to report on. I’ve been busy blogging away for both Turrall and Fishtec. For the former, I’ve recently covered the topic of spider fly patterns and fishing tips, with nine great flies including three personal favourite variants (above). For Fishtec, recent posts include my Beginner’s Guide to Roach Fishing and a look at Night Fishing for Carp.
These days you can also catch my “Far Bank” column every week on the back page the Angling Times, where I cover all manner of fishing adventures and talking points (and the things I can’t always share or squeeze into this blog!).
Coming up, you’ll find sea fishing adventures from Cornwall’s dramatic Mullion Cove, along with thrills and spills from a busy National Fishing Month, where I’ve volunteered to help Tiverton Scouts and Exeter & District Angling Association to help get more youngsters fishing. We had well over a hundred kids on the club’s special “Have a Go at Fishing” day, which was a fantastic result. Just about all caught little rudd, along with some bigger crucians, tench and skimmers at Harper’s Ponds, just a stone’s throw from Double Locks Inn on the Exeter Canal.
We all like our tuppence worth on what is wrong with angling these days, but if each of us introduced just one new person, young or old, to fishing we could be a lot stronger as a sport. Don’t leave it to someone else- whether it’s a workmate or a friends kids, make sure you take someone new fishing this year.