Spring Spots and Stripes

What a difference just a few days, and degrees, make. It feels like we’ve finally turned the corner to brighter times and “proper spring”. This is never a strict calendar date but more of a transitional phase or gut feeling. It’s also my favourite time of year of all, I have to say. Even if the fishing can be hit and miss, there’s that sense of renewal and that the best of the year is all still to come.

 Trout and tench both tend to be on my radar at this time of year- but with winter having been so unpredictable and rather underwhelming for predators, it also felt like there was some unfinished business. A tricky balancing act sometimes, because I’m of the definite mindset that everything has its time in the year. My strong feeling as an angler is that you should always consider the needs of the fish as well as your own agenda, which rules out chasing any one species year-round.


Where to find perch fishing

Talking of predators, perch are perhaps a decent place to start. It’s sod’s law that I missed the end of the river season and yet was still craving a real net-filler by mid March. It would have to be a stillwater, therefore, and as soon as possible before there was the chance they might spawn. Once this is imminent, I would much rather leave them alone, frankly.

As with many other species, this phase of the year can be tough for perch. Even if they don’t tend to be spawning till a bit later, they will often be moving to different areas and can thus be quite unevenly distributed on stillwaters. Nor do they always want lots of grub- and my main tactic, therefore, has been to try lots of swims over short sessions, with quite sparse loosefeed and only one rod. These days, I love the lift-method with large hookbaits such as prawn or, in this case, a whole lobworm.

What a delightful surprise after several fruitless hours, therefore, to get a proper bite and a wonderfully dogged-fighting fish last time out! It was one of those touch and go moments, not only with wrestling it from cover (a good reason not to go below 6lb line) but wondering whether it was in fact a carp. Sometimes what you thought was a big perch suddenly decides it is a carp, after all, so it’s always nice when the reverse happens.

I’d have put money on the fish going three pounds judging by the bulge in the net. Not quite, but at 2-13, it was a superb way to restore a bit of faith after quite a testing winter. More to come on my perch tactics shortly in Angling Times- including an old-fashioned but brilliant perch attractor for match and speci anglers alike- and which anyone can gather for free (and no, it isn’t garden worms).



 One of the best things about spring is the chance to get out again on the small trout streams. Find a cute little river (and there are dozens on the FishPass app for as little as £6 a day here in Devon) and I’m in my element. However, you will seldom get an easy “fill-yer-boots” type session in March. The water is still cold, after all, and you may also face blustery conditions, coloured water and fish that don’t do what you expect.

Fly fishing Devon spring March


This was very much the case on a small brook with my brother, Ben Garnett. Our timing seemed a bit off, after two or three days of patchy and sometimes heavy rain. The water wasn’t exactly chocolate milkshake, but certainly murkier than we’d hoped for. Neither were last year’s hotspots looking great.

With a winter of upheaval you never quite know what to expect. Gravels move around and features change. The fish hug areas you didn’t expect while disappearing from previous hotspots. This is alll part of the fun, of course, but it took us a while to get cooking.

With not a single rise form, tactics were simple nymph plus indicator stuff. I was also happy to share a rod. It’s a sociable way to fish- and I also wanted to try Ben’s new-ish glass fibre rod. For one thing, this material has a slower action than carbon, which is desirable on small rivers where delicacy is much more important than distance. It’s noticeably more forgiving and lovely for roll casts, I’ll say that much. Not that it has the heaviness of cane; in fact, I hardly noticed any extra weight with this 8ft 4wt model from “Tightloops” fly rods.

Glass fibre fishing rods pros and cons

It was a bit like driving a friend’s vintage car; enjoyable, but you also feel slightly cautious to let rip! At least, until Ben told me a bit more about the material. Glass is enjoying something of a comeback right now, and aside from a lovely, lock-up-free playing action, another reason anglers love the stuff is its awesome toughness. Anyone who’s used a glass sea fishing rod will know that the material will take a silly amount of abuse- and will even survive getting slammed in a car boot quite often, not that I would try this with a lovely custom rod!

Unfortunately for my road test, the trout were nowhere to be seen for the first hour. With a fair bit of rain, we’d deliberately picked a river that tends to clear fast, however, so as the day wore on and some insects hatched (large dark olives mostly), I still felt optimistic, in spite of only a foot or so of visibility.

Oddly, two or three favourite pools produced nothing- perhaps due to the extra water colouring them up too badly. But once we ventured further into a nice stony run with some deeper holes on the near bank, I finally got that telltale dip on the indicator and the little rod bucked over well. Was it the magic of the retro material, though, or a bigger-than-average small stream trout?

Brown trout wild fishing South West England

A bit of both, perhaps, but what a great feeling to get off the mark. It was a typical early season fish of just over eleven inches- fit, if a little skinny. I gave it the barest few seconds of fresh air for a snap, before letting it get back to the business of fattening up. What awesomely beautiful and athletic fish these are.

A few minutes later, the same happened again, in the same sort of spot and the exact same presentation: a Beaded Hare’s Ear type pattern with a bit of added sparkle dubbing as a “collar” seemed just the job, fished around 50cm from an indicator. I’ve recently been using a lot of Hemingway’s stuff- and I love their UV dubbings to add just a hint of extra oomph. Interestingly, we tried different beads, too, but it was classic silver or gold that were best. Red looks like it might stand out more in tinged water- but I have to say, I find bright reds, greens and other colours far better for rainbows than wild browns.



Best wet flies for spring fly fishing
My simple collared Hare’s Ear. For more recent fly tying, I’ve recently posted on the Turrall Flies blog with some useful fly patterns for coarse fish and trout alike.


As for the method itself, I still find myself coming back time and again to the basic indicator plus nymph method a lot for fly fishing on Devon and Cornwall’s rivers. It’s not as in vogue as French Leader type fishing- but on so many of our little streams, the indicator seems the better approach because the fish spook if you get too close to them with a long rod in shallow water. At least with a short rod and a yarn or foam indicator, you can side or roll cast and put a bit more distance between you and the fish.


Ben was soon off the mark, too, and while we tried other patterns and red beaded flies, it was the basic silver or gold head buggy flies that they wanted, teased around creases and any deeper pockets we could find along steady runs. The main lesson was to be persistent and keep exploring, and not to expect trout where you found them last summer.

There were already some new snags to contend with, too! Tempting as it might be to bring some shears, I’m often of the verdict that it’s better to leave all but the worst alone. It’s the cragginess of these little rivers that is part of their appeal, after all, and trout need cover.

What a great feeling to start the new season with some good knocks and near misses. At the start of play, I had wondered if we’d even see a trout- and yet we had five gorgeous fish between us by mid-afternoon, all between 9 and 11 inches.

Should any blog readers be visiting Devon and Somerset this Spring and fancy some guided fishing, or simply looking to learn how to fly fish in the South West, do check out the guiding section of my website! While the summer holidays are already filling up, April and May can be the best months of all.

Spring trout fishing Devon


Further reading and Fallon’s Angler No.29!

The only other reminder this month is to get your teeth into some great reading material while you can. You can catch my column and journalism every week in Angling Times  and my topics continue to be wide-ranging, from major talking points to exclusive interviews. In the coming weeks, we’re taking a closer look at the close season and science of fish spawning, along with a look behind the scenes with rod licence artist David Miller. If you’ve not picked the magazine up in a while, do give it a try this spring!

Meanwhile, in the online world, you can find more of my writing on the Turrall Flies blog and also at Fisheries.co.uk – which will shortly feature my guide to turning the chaos of your tackle corner into better order, and advice on spring cleaning and saving time and money on your tackle.

As for a longer angling read, the best place for fishing stories by a country mile is still Fallons Angler. Yes, I’m a bit biased as a contributor, but Issue 29 is a point in case with the especially juicy theme of “secret swims”. The book-a-zine format is always enjoyable but this edition feels downright unmissable, with a hatful of brilliant tales that will appeal to any angler.

Fallons Angler best angling books tales 2023

Besides a fitting tribute to Screaming Reels presenter Nick Fisher, there are some great tales of subterfuge, wild rumours and equally surprising real-life catches in the mix. Do track it down for yourself- because in this era of everything-for-free-at-a-click, quality writing and traditional print really do need and deserve your support.


E-Books at Just £4.99