Spring Fly Fishing in Devon

Depending on your tastes (and level of patience!) fishing can be the most active or the most slow and static of sports. Back bivvying on the Exeter shit Ship Canal recently, I’ve been pondering this a lot. A lack of sleep can do that. When it’s really slow, it can almost get to the point where it is a different sport.

Exeter canal carp fishing

Of course, we love to throw judgments at others these days and think our preferences are superior. I would make no such claim. Slower fishing is not always lazy or without craft. It can be deliciously absorbing. With days eaten up by emails, blogging for various businesses and messaging friends, solitude can feel like a forbidden drug in the world we live in. And I have loved the odd more languid evening and night session, reaquainting myself with, well, myself. I’ve been catching the odd fish too… not quite what I expected, but reason enough to grateful to be out in the fresh air.

Exeter canal tench fishing

Other much quicker missions with a fly rod have also reminded me how lucky I am to live in Devon, even if my time is usually too pinched to pitch a tent. Hatches have been sparse on my favourite rivers, but I had a crazy stroke of fortune on an urban brook, in the 90 or so free minutes while waiting for my wife to clock off work. Ironically, having spent three separate nights chasing carp this spring so far, it took me less than an hour to catch what could well prove my best fly catch of the season. Well, in relative terms a trout of 16″ is an absolute giant from an urban stream.

Oddly, it was an isolated piece of skill on a day it felt like I botched and spooked every other spot! Odd rising fish just wouldn’t play ball on a low river, so I opted for the pragmatism of a beaded Hare’s Ear, dropped neatly into the corner of a pool. The fish wrenched insanely hard on a four-weight. It seemed to take forever to land, but was probably just three or four tense minutes, by which time a small crowd had formed on a nearby bridge. I could perhaps have got better images, but with the onlookers top priority was a quick release. I didn’t have another take- and it just goes to prove that saying that it “only takes one bite” to make an awful session into an epic one.

Perhaps I felt duty bound to repay my fortune then, because the next three sessions were all with anglers who get far less time than they’d like to hit the water. First up was my older brother, Ben Garnett. We used to take off most weekends years back. But between work and childcare, he has hardly fished in recent times. So it was lovely to hit an Exe tributary (if you’re scratching for access to this highly private river the Westcountry Angling Passport, is a godsend).

It looked sparkling too. We saw fish dimpling quite often, but every time we cast to these risers, they seemed to miraculously become out-of-season grayling rather than the trout we were hoping for. They seemed to have a ravenous post-spawn hunger and we struggled to avoid them, beautiful though they were.

The only two spotty intruders hooked were both lost on the way in, but it was a sweet afternoon nonetheless. And it is still early. Every year I am the same; just as it only takes one sunny afternoon for folks to dig out barbeques and tinnies, it only takes the same conditions to make me expect rising trout and hectic dry fly sport.

The next soul I rescued from a lack of recent fishing was Angling Trust boss Mark Lloyd, this time on the canal. I’m so used to reporting on news stories and quotes from him amidst various angling campaigns, it was great to go fishing with the person behind the politics. I know nobody who works harder to support our sport and I think the angling gods must have been waiting to reward his commitment on this rare day off. We had some cracking takes too, including a solid rudd… but to get the fuller story and see what Mark caught on his very first cast you’ll have to wait for the Angling Times piece out very soon.

Last but not least, I also rescued my friend Darren Simienski from a different office. Darren is the man who puts slick designs to accompany the text I write for hotels. A real wilderness fan with a taste for camping and sea angling, I had long suspected he might enjoy some fly fishing for wild trout. And I wasn’t wrong. Perhaps the outskirts of Tiverton were a different kind of wild to his much-loved Dartmoor, but the fly fishing proved very productive for a first crack.

I think he found it more technical than he imagined. But after a quick casting lesson he was quickly into sussing out spots and learning the intricacies of fly presentation and stealthily fooling trout. Two in your first ever session is a great result too.

We enjoyed a fun and varied afternoon, as well as the odd random encounter with the Tivertonians.  One of whom was a bored ten year old boy who decided he would stick to us like glue as soon as we showed him the merest hint of friendliness. Slightly sad, but rather that than getting into trouble I guess. You do wonder about kids who will virtually grab your rod off you and stalk a pair of complete strangers though! I always feel sorry for these characters. Perhaps it is my past in schools and social services. But on a Sunday off it can get a bit wearing.

Nor was he the only spotty urchin on the river, because we had plenty of hits and near misses. Again, they were a bit reluctant to rise. A couple slashed at a small caddis, but they were much more happy to grab a nymph.

Back to the daily grind for me today, but let’s hope the deliciously sunny and warm spring weather continues.  Even short sessions on cheap-as-chips waters have been proving well worth the effort, so get out there! Better still, share the fun and take a friend or family member while you’re there.

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