Free fishing on Dartmoor’s Avon Dam

With a baby due in just over a month now (so, God help me), I’ve been trying to snatch every chance going to make the most of the calm before the storm. As usual, my tastes have been pretty mixed, too, with both local match fishing (more on this in my next post) and some fly sport on more remote waters.

wild trout Devon free fly fishing South West UK
Not big, or especially clever, but there are some beautiful wild fish up on the moor.

I realise this must sound like chalk and cheese, but I honestly get a kick out of both, albeit for quite different reasons. The joy of escapism is a very different thing to the buzz of competition, for one thing, but I like at least one or two trips per month where the result really isn’t so important.

Sometimes there is a lot to be said for crap phone signal and a good walk, which is exactly what I found on a visit to the pretty Avon Dam, South Dartmoor. There must be plenty of others lured here by those magic words “free fishing”. But in fairness, the long walk and fly fishing only signs might put a fair proportion of them off. Please do note that most of the fishing on Dartmoor is not free either- although there’s some great low cost river fishing on offer to anyone from the Westcountry Angling Passport.

Back to our free reservoir, there’s decent parking by the River Avon too (well, Devon’s Avon, which is a spindly but pretty little stream) above South Brent, which is a bonus. The route itself is just beautiful too, in the late spring. Tiny, overgrown roads take you through little villages and enticing glimpses of the river, before you reach the more open, higher ground.

The Hampshire Avon, this isn’t. Very pretty though!

What a treat the walk to Avon Dam is, too. I’d wondered how easy it would be, but my wife, at 7 months something pregnant, is still a force of nature. We made short work of the mile or so approach, enjoying the ruggedly beautiful scenery, curious sheep and an unlikely mix of gorse and bright pink rhodedendrons (not quite as evil as Himalayan Balsam, at least).

Tadpoles Dartmoor nature walks
Just about every puddle we came across was full of tadpoles, even in late May.

The little river was beautiful, too. Who on earth owns it, I ‘m not sure. I’ve searched high and low, only to find no answers for this stetch (the Devonshire River Avon Fly Fishing Association own the really prime water, nearer civilisation). So you’ll forgive me for having had a cheeky cast or three on the way up (if you own the rights or know who does- please feel free to contact me or, better still, put some information up!).

A “pool” of coffee table size is enough space for several pint-sized trout.

It’s a lovely stream, too, absolutely stuffed with fish. Albeit of the size most of today’s anglers can’t be bothered with; the biggest I saw the whole walk must have been seven inches. But what a place to tempt wild fish- with little boulder-strewn runs, waterfalls and miniature pools.

I had three small browns in mere minutes of fishing (i.e. as long as I could linger in each of three or so spots without taking the piss). Each one flung itself at the fly; being lazy and having planned for the lake, I simply used a 9ft 5wt with a duo of small traditional flies (a Bibio as a sight indicator-cum-dropper, with a Black Spider on point). Not big, or clever, but as exquisitely marked as any trout you’ll catch on the planet earth.

wild brown trout Dartmoor Avon Dam
Not big, but insanely pretty, these Dartmoor fish.

In the meantime, Paulina found two free walking sticks and became aquainted with the locals- including a clumsy and completley fearless cow. There were also lots of really skittish lambs, no doubt wary of the dogs, even though they have to be on leads here. It was a perfect length walk, in fact, with a mile or so each way, making this a great little fishing trip for anyone with non-fishing folks joining them.

Dartmoor cattle walks Avon Dam
Holy cow! Not all the animals up here are as shy as the trout.

Finally, though, after a bit more of a climb, we were to reach Avon Dam Reservoir itself. Predictably someone had scratched the fishing sign, which should read “fly fishing only”, by the look of things, and a limit of only one 7″+ fish to be kept. I have no idea if you can lure fish it in truth- but if you must, I would lose any trebles or barbed hooks because all you’ll do is damage the little trout here with any crude fittings. Of course, the usual Devon fly fishing season also applies (15th March to 30th September).

fly fishing only sign Dartmoor
Yes, that definitely means the rules have changed because you scratched the sign. Even the moors are not free of some of today’s utter throbbers sadly.

Why anyone would want to kill and keep any of the pretty, modest-sized trout here is anyone’s guess- but I guess any spot that’s free with just an EA licence will draw the usual assortment of semi clueless bubble float and worm anglers (no offence, but it’s what you’ll find on any sunny weekend). At least the access here is more remote to put them off, unlike say Meldon Reservoir or Venford, where I’ve always found a good walk away from the access point a wise first move.

I could get technical about the fishing, but it would be pointless. It was incredibly simple. Put out a decent line and give a lively figure of eight retrieve. I was glad I had the five weight, because although the fish are small, it’s a breezy, open lake. Quite quickly I saw signs of life, with rises and an early splashy take, just as my flies came back under the rod tip.

Fly fishing Avon Dam Dartmoor
Breezy, wide open space on Avon Dam, which has plentiful small trout and all the fresh air you could wish for.

For me, the place cries out for a scaled down loch style approach with two or three bushy flies. I wouldn’t go above a 14 though, and you should debarb your patterns carefully, because 95% of the fish are not “keepers” even if you do still live in the last century.

A cast and step approach seemed sensible, as I cast along the shoreline, aiming to cover different water each shot. I didn’t have long, because I didn’t want to bore my wife to death. Not much over an hour was sufficient, though, and after missing another tiddly little trout right down the edge, a longer cast resulted in a better pull and a fish that had me convinced it was bigger.

Avon Dam Wild brown trout fly fishing
Getting slightly bigger… great fun on light tackle.

Not a bad one, anyway, although my shovel hands don’t make it look very impressive in the picture! And in a funny way, that was enough for me. After the long walk, a tin of IPA, well cooled in the stream, tasted especially delicious, too.

Could I have loitered for another couple of hours? Yes, definitely. But you can always come back another day and it’s good to be hungry for more. I intend to make a return visit at some point- and I suspect something like a little Sedgehog would also provide some thrills with these aggressive Dartmoor trout.

If you’re interested in the fishing and Dartmoor in general, for the record, you could always book a guided fly fishing session on one of the rivers with me. You might also enjoy Crooked Lines, my book of fishing tales, which has a story all about the joys of Dartmoor, featuring the River Dart and Cherry Brook, among other places.


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