Today was the last day of the salmon extension on the Dart. From the past two weeks I have been able to squeeze 9 days fishing. The conditions have been terrible, I can’t remember the last time it rained before yesterday. ‘The river is as low as I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived on it for 50 years,’ said one early morning dog walker.
In an attempt to surprise a salmon I’ve been getting up before dawn, a painful but cleansing experience. One morning I was crouched tight to the near bank, swinging a fly across a known lie, when a salmon came bolting past me from upstream closely followed by an otter. It’s the first otter I’ve seen on Dartmoor and it made my day, mainly because the salmon remained sullen and uninterested.
But yesterday it rained. It rained so much that the river was unfishable by late morning. Today it was dropping, and that is what we’ve all been waiting for. I fished all day, progressing to smaller flies and lighter tips as the river dropped and cleared. In the last hour I cast a small black fly to swing across a small eddy. It had swung toward the main flow, a few inches under the surface, when a big silver head breached the flow with my fly in its jaws. I let the salmon turn before tightening, and feeling the weight of the fish at the other end of my line, it surged, my leader snapped, and I was left holding on to nothing at all. So it goes in salmon fishing.
For the last day of the trout season on Dartmoor I decided to fish the Cowsic, not one of my more regular spots but a pretty stream, usually.
You can tell the season is coming to a close, the bracken has started to droop and everything looks a little tired (what you can see of it anyway).
In a thick fog I caught some trout, but also broke my prized Sage TXL. I hope the boys at Guide can help me get it fixed.
Cold, wet, and September. I spent my last night of sea trout fishing in 2014 on a stretch of private water I have access to on the Dart. It’s taken me a bit of time to learn the water, and I’ve lost a lot of fish here on prototype surface lures, but the last one stuck and went back strongly after a quick photo.
There is a long pool in the middle of Dartmoor that has a good reputation for producing sea trout and the occasional salmon. It is a long walk from the nearest road, longer in the dark, and the path passes through bogs, bramble patches, and a high stone wall. It’s a journey I make only a few times a year, but sometimes it’s very worth it.
I caught this hen sea trout on a small black and silver tube, it dragged me up and down the pool. I had to pass the rod around hawthorn trees and fight my way through gorse before I could get her in the net. I don’t carry scales and measurements can be in exact with sea trout but I’d say a conservative 6lbs is fair, very possibly a good bit more.
Most of the fishing I do these days is with a fly rod, not because I think it’s better or ‘more sporting’ or any of that crap but because I enjoy the rhythm of it, covering lots of water, and keeping active. (Though I do think it’s kind of the right way to catch trout.) It wasn’t always like that as when I was a young boy I had none of the necessary patience and application required to learn fly casting.
I started out fishing with a whip, a float, and a worm. Well, I suppose I really started out with a net and a jam jar, but it was a float fished worm that accounted for my first line caught fish. The problem I had with it is that I’m not the most patient soul, I tend to get antsy if I just sit on the bank, I want to try and make things happen rather than wait for them, so I turned to spinning. I was never that interested in heavy lures and big pike, but using lighter tackle and small lures held real appeal. Most of the books on spinning that I owned had a chapter on ultralight fishing for perch and chub and the delicate, precise style of that kind of spinning held a lot of appeal. I caught a few fish too, not many and mostly small pike and perch. I couldn’t, despite a lot of trying, catch a chub. It became a mini obsession that I had to catch a chub on a lure. Yesterday, after a fifteen year intermission spent fly fishing, I finally did.
I took my Allcocks Light Caster out to the River Culm, knowing that the warmer months over the best chance of an active chub, and approached the business seriously with chest waders and a Shakespeare Small S plug in roach colours. I fished upstream, flipping casts under and often into the trees. About half way up I caught a small pike and just as I was approaching the end of the fishing I found a nice looking pool, on the first cast I finally hooked and landed that elusive chub I’d been waiting for all these years – a nice fish of maybe a pound and a half. And then, to prove it wasn’t a fluke, I caught another, bigger one. Shortly after that I lost the killer lure on a heavy underwater snag but I’m not unhappy with the sacrifice for a long held ambition achieved.
A little while ago, in May, (I’ve been slack in posting and I’m sorry) we had a good couple of days of hard rain in the West Country that brought the river levels right up so I went out in search of a salmon.
I got off to a bad start when I left my wading boots at home, not realising the mistake until I was ready to put them on. I had planned to fish the lower Dart during the morning and hit the moor in the afternoon. I had to go home, but I decided that rather than mope about feeling stupid I’d bring the afternoon plan forward.
When I finally reached the river I found that what is usually dry bank was underwater. A few swings through my favourite pool and the line tightened as a big fish took. It turns out it wasn’t a salmon, but who could be disappointed with a nice sea trout of about four and a half pounds? A great way to get the migratory scorecard up and running.
I decided to take one of my bamboo rods to work with me with the intention of taking the road home across the moor and stop for a cast or two. Of course one cast often leads to another, and it’s easy to lose track of time, until it starts to get dark anyway.
So the rivers of Dartmoor have woken up. Early season is always tough up on the high moorland. Most of the brown trout are still hunkered down in their winter holes, and the sea trout and salmon are still at sea. April is tough, March is tougher, but when we get to May and the green force of spring hits then things start to get interesting.
Reports have reached my ears of the first few salmon and sea trout being caught, and the browns have woken up to a breakfast of olives, midges, and even the odd mayfly in the lower reaches. Everything is fresh and green and good.
The river trout season is open, down my way anyway, and there is something of a tradition in these parts to meet up and have a social cast. This year we were all helped along by it being such a glorious, sunny day. The air was warm, but the water was still bloody cold and fish were difficult to find. I was really very pleased to bring two to the net having taken a dry fly (well, a klinkhammer anyway) and another two on the nymph got things off to a flyer. I think I was connected to a sea trout or salmon smolt at one point, certainly a silvery customer as compared to the others, but he came off. If it was a smolt that’s not too unhappy an outcome (I’d done better than I expected as it was) hopefully we’ll meet again on his way back upriver to spawn.
As part of my preparations for a season whose main focus is to be on salmon I’ve been reading. Fishing books can be a great source of both entertainment and information, the former good for when we can’t be on the water and the latter for when we are. One of the books that has been a surprisingly good read is Modern Salmon and Sea Trout Fishing by Kenneth Dawson. In this case modern is 1936. Despite the advances in technology and understanding – KD suggests sea trout feed avidly on moths for instance – there is still a lot of good advice about fishing a new river for the first time. It is particularly interesting to me as his home rivers are the Dart and Tavy, with some cracking old school black and white prints.
As if to highlight the subjectivity of the label ‘modern’ Kenneth refers to the First World War as simply ‘The War’. I feel as though someone should warn him that there is going to be a second, but I haven’t the heart.