End of August, 2017

by Charlie Webster

The last thing I wrote was about fishing after a flood. This is about the day after that – falling water and sunshine.

That brilliance you get on the surface of water in bright sunshine is bad news. The fish cannot see properly and what they can see might well include the shadow of you or your line. If the water is clear below the surface, and you can drop a fly so it suddenly appears in right in front of a fish, you might get a take. But I think it will be better later. Around 4.30 pm, on the stretch of West Dart I am still fishing, I will have trees behind me and the sun dipping behind the trees and the fish nosing around a little more.

I am on the beat between Dartmeet and Hexworthy Bridge, which includes some of the best pools on Dartmoor. The first big one from the Dartmeet end is the Queenie, which is famous. But there are even better ones further up, if you can take a bit of hard walking.

My aim today is to go a mile up and then back again, fishing the pots between waterfalls, the channels between pots, the quiet water either side of the main current, anywhere which looks “fishy”. You never stop learning. A good spot when the river is high might be no good when the river is low. A spot you never caught a fish before might be the right one on this particular day. You are always logging the conditions – water height, water colour, air temperature … If the air is colder than the water, the fish go down deep and hard to find.

This evening, the water is a rich ruby and the flotsam of the flood has settled. I get to a pool called The Rim, shaped like a frypan with a bent handle, where the water runs out through the handle in a line of falls and rapids. On the other side of the pool, and around to the lip of the panhandle, are granite boulders you could hide a mini-bus under. Fish lurking there, no doubt. But if you get one, you have to hold him tight and get him up the pool. If he gets over the lip and down into the rapids, he will double his weight by using the water against you. I lost one here that way once before and I can still hear the crack when he cut my line on a rock. But the way it is here nowadays, I have to work downstream, like it or not. There used to be better angles to use but they depended on one fisherman after another knocking down some furze or lopping off an awkward branch. Now there are not enough of us left to stop the vegetation filling the banks and cutting off fishing options. The upper Dart waters are becoming quite difficult to walk and to fish.

In the pots I am aiming for, there is not a lot of space and I need to get enough of my fly line in the water, behind the leader, so it will sink the hook a foot or so. I cut back to a 7-foot leader and I pick a sinking line, rather than my standby intermediate, because I want a fast sink from a small length of it in the water.

Tube fly – about an inch and a quarter – rough photo below …


It’s a good simple standby pattern for this river and I make them myself. A bit of copper tube for weight, wrapped with black and gold for glitter and finished with a spray of orange bucktail. I make the same fly, and similar, with aluminium and nylon tube too. The copper is heaviest and I use it in fast water, where the current takes it forward rather than down. In slower water, I would use a lighter fly. I want the fly to sink when the line drags it down but not to drop like a stone. You are looking for balance between fly and line, to get the effect you want.

Hold a copper tube fly in your hand and it feels like nothing. But actually it is quite heavy when the weight of it is multiplied by the forces you put into casting. I’ve got my 13-ft double-handed 10-weight rod and I am glad of it. I have seen a lot of people struggle with a tube fly on too light a rod. Weight on the end of a fly line is hard to handle and that is one reason I do not go for a big lure.

As soon as my fly is in the water, I lift the rod up. The beginners’ rule is to keep the tip down while fishing, so you are ready to strike. But fast water like this will seize your line and whip your hook away from its starting position before it has a chance to go down. You want to lift most of your line off the water so there is no more than a couple of yards of it lying behind the leader. That way, you have a chance of controlling the fly. Also, having a steep angle on the line encourages it to dive quickly.

I quickly work through all the likely spots on this pool. My general rule is: if you don’t get a result from four or five casts to one place, move on. Not a touch or an offer. I move down to another pool, similar in shape. I check the fly. Still plenty of confidence in it. I check the hook points. Still sharp. Some fishermen never throw a hook away but that seems daft to me. Once you have caught a couple of rocks, and you can no longer feel the point threatening to go into your thumb when you test it, you are at risk of not taking your next fish. Factory-made hooks are cheap enough to be disposable. Flies are another matter, of course. I charge a tenner for four for mine and that’s not a bad price. Not many places on Dartmoor nowadays where you are not going to leave at least a fiver stuck up a tree. The number of visitors prepared to fish in these conditions is dwindling and the authorities should be getting worried about it.

However, today I am keeping out of trouble. Another try with the same fly I started with. And another, to a big oblong rock on the other side. The fly swings in front of it. Suddenly there is a great bulge in the water as a fish chases it off.

To cast again straight away would be a mistake. I make myself wait five minutes. Then back at the same spot. Bang!

He runs across the pool, shaking his head. I keep a gentle pressure on the line. He moves up to the white water from the pool above. Suits me. From there I can draw him towards me without bending the rod too much. When he heads back for the white water, I let him do it, because then we can play the same game again. We tussle for 10 minutes and then he surfaces briefly before making another run back. He is tiring. I unsling my net … and I’ve finally got my second salmon of the summer, not counting the one that got away. It’s a female, 8-10 lbs, fin-perfect condition. But she has been in the river 2 or 3 months and has turned brown as she fills with roe. She is hooked in the corner of the mouth and it is easily removed, thank goodness. I disentangle her from the net and let her slip into the current and she kicks away.

A couple of weeks later, in mid-September, I am no better off. It has not been a good season. But more on that later – plus some suggestions for easier places to have a go. Meanwhile, here’s a tip which everyone seems to like. Glueing tippet loops to your fly line, for attaching leaders, is a fine occupation for a winter evening and might even gain you a yard or two. But most of the time, the solution below is good enough …

* Charlie Webster is a fishing guide, and fly-tying teacher, based in this area, with good knowledge of most of the rivers of Devon & Cornwall. Contact him on 07864 845901 or leave a message below or with Keep checking in for more of his diary

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