Day­dreams on Dart­moor

Nick Hart catches pretty wild browns on Devon’s River Dart

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

AL­THOUGH I am not due to meet pho­tog­ra­pher Henry Gil­bey for sev­eral hours it just doesn’t feel right to cling on to the du­vet this morn­ing. I’ve al­ready been stir­ring for an hour, plan­ning the day ahead. The gear’s pre-packed and so within min­utes the truck is f ired up and I be­gin my jour­ney south; full of an­tic­i­pa­tion. The drive to the River Dart is soon over. With so much time on my hands I can af­ford to re­lax with a good strong cup of cof­fee at the Two Bridges Ho­tel, which will be needed to­day, for the Dart is set within ter­rain used for mil­i­tary train­ing since the 1800s. The ho­tel also sup­plies fish­ing per­mits on be­half of the Duchy of Corn­wall and an in­cred­i­bly de­tailed map, so find­ing your way around this mag­nif­i­cent venue flow­ing in all di­rec­tions through­out Dart­moor Na­tional Park, is rel­a­tively sim­ple. By the time Henry ar­rives I’ve al­ready been in my waders for half an hour. A 9ft 4 wt rod is poised, rigged sim­ply with a 12-foot knot­less ta­pered leader, plus an ad­di­tional two feet of Stroft tip­pet and a bushy dry fly. Klink & Dink, The Duo and all that jazz may well work but per­son­ally I just can’t get enough of see­ing a hun­gry moor­land trout at­tack at the sur­face in a flurry of spray, trig­ger­ing a spon­ta­neous strike. Blink and you will miss it.

The call of the wild

Some may ques­tion how on earth the prospect of tan­gling with palm-sized trout for the day could be de­scribed as an adrenalin rush, but set­ting off north up the West Dart to­wards Wist­mans Wood I can feel ev­ery nerve end­ing tin­gling with ex­cite­ment. Such is my haste to be­gin cast­ing that I lead us in the wrong direc­tion be­fore chang­ing course (and my mind) rush­ing head­long down a steep val­ley to­wards the river. My dizzy nav­i­ga­tion leads us to­wards an an­cient stone wall topped off with barbed wire but the caf­feine does its job and I man­age to clear the last ob­sta­cle between me and the fish, with­out harm­ing my waders. I chuckle as with the fines se of a bull in a china shop Henry bun­dles him­self over in pur­suit, po­litely wash­ing over my poor sense of direc­tion as he too has sur­vived with­out dam­age to ex­pen­sive Gore-Tex or the crown jew­els! There is no time to suck in a lung­ful of pure west-coun­try air and be­fore the lens cap has been re­moved I can­not re­sist a flick at a mouth-wa­ter­ing pool that just has to be home to one of the pocket-sized preda­tors I seek.

“Some may ques­tion how on earth the prospect of tan­gling with palm-sized trout for the day could be de­scribed as an adrenalin rush...”

Within split sec­onds of the size 14 TG Emerger touch­ing down on the malt whisk y-coloured sur­face, it is sav­aged, but Henry is not ready, so this lit­tle fell a es­capes his mo­ment of fame and is sent home be­fore re­ally know­ing what has hap­pened. The quick re­lease is fa­cil­i­tated by a bar bless hook, com­pul­sory in my opin­ion when fish­ing for wild trout and in­stantly I’m cast­ing again. Two more fish join the first be­fore Henry is set but I re­ally feel no ‘must catch’ pres­sure to­day as the Dart is team­ing with these hun­gry lit­tle mon­sters.

Ea­ger to feed but not stupid

Cam­ou­flaged like the marines who pe­ri­od­i­cally pass them by, the Dart­moor trout are per­fectly evolved for their en­vi­ron­ment and tuned into ever y rip­ple. Watch­ing. Wait­ing. Ready for any thing reck­less enough to fall within their lair. Much of the food avail­able is land borne and there­fore ar­ti­fi­cial pat­terns with con­vinc­ing sil­hou­ettes are pounced upon (if pre­sented cor­rectly), mis­taken for a va­ri­ety of ter­res­trial in­sects in­clud­ing the abun­dant bee­tles which rep­re­sent starters, main course and pud­ding for the minia­ture in­hab­i­tants that I’m seek­ing. Al­lud­ing to my last para­graph these fish may of­fer fre­netic sport, but they are far from stupid and very wary of any­thing that ap­pears like dan­ger. De­spite their stature as the great white shark of their sub­sur­face ecosys­tem, air­borne preda­tors are never far away and there­fore – to be­come the em­peror of their realm – a diet of bee­tles must be re­placed with can­ni­bal­is­tic ten­den­cies. Strug­gling for takes? It is quite pos­si­ble that the trout has seen you com­ing. This is why I like to use a long leader and, for­tu­nately to­day, the wind is very light, al­though if you’re not so lucky dur­ing your visit, treat the wind as your friend and adopt a kind of dap­ping style rather than us­ing your rod to joust with mother nature. Some an­glers em­ploy knee pads to fa­cil­i­tate stay­ing low, but I like to bow my six-foot frame, utilise the 9ft Greys Stream­flex and keep just enough dis­tance between me and the fish that it can­not sense my pres­ence. Tenkara devo­tees would be in their el­e­ment here. This com­mando-style fish­ing re­ally does it for me and if you need to es­cape back into the world of your child­hood, there are few more sat­is­fy­ing ways to do so than spend­ing a care free day fly-fish­ing the Dart. Skip­ping from rock to rock I’ve be­come lost in an al­most sur­real world, far from the madding crowds, alert and yet in a day­dream-es­que state with noth­ing on my mind other than the next glide, pool or pot. Trout af­ter trout come thick and fast as Henry coos ap­prov­ingly from be­hind the lens en­thralled by the mag­nif­i­cent scene en­velop­ing the view finder. These fish are truly stun­ning, with bold mark­ings and a def­i­nite hint of at­ti­tude trig­gered by their glut­tonous mis­take. It would be easy to be­come so en­grossed

with the ac­tion that the countr yside is taken for granted but with each reg­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion of pow­der to re­ju­ve­nate my dr y f ly I tilt my head back and for wards, soak­ing in the azure above and a vista that could be mis­taken for the so-called big sky countr y of Mon­tana. These fish may be con­sid­er­ably smaller than their cousins across the At­lantic, but I’ve never al­lowed size to dic­tate my choice of venue.

£10 a day for all this!

Heed­ing my own ad­vice, we stop for lunch and – al­though at the ver y least a ‘baker’s dozen’ of fish have been caught – our con­ver­sa­tion is noth­ing to do with num­bers, tac­tics or tech­nique. In­stead we ponder on the sheer priv­i­lege to be right here, right now framed by the kind of scene that I close my eyes and vi­su­alise when jammed into a Mon­day morn­ing rush-hour tube. If you re­ally need to get away from it all; this is the place. Bet­ter still this must be one of the cheap­est great days out avail­able at just £10 for a per­mit en­ti­tling the luck y holder to a full day wan­der­ing the many miles of East and West Dart, not to men­tion the idyl­lic Cherr y Brook trib­u­tar y. If you can man­age more than a short break hol­i­day then £30 of­fers a full week of f ish­ing and, for lo­cals, a sea­son ticket will cost less than 20 pints of beer at just £70. Salmon and sea trout an­glers can also expect budget-priced sport with a week’s f ish­ing avail­able for just £85, de­tailed in­for­ma­tion is avail­able from the com­pre­hen­sive West Countr y An­gling Pass­port web­site. A las I don’t want this day to end, but a few hours later and sev­eral miles up­stream, Henr y ad­vises that his SD card is overf low­ing to the point that a book would be re­quired to pub­lish it all, rather than a magazine fea­ture. Slightly be­grudg­ingly I haul my­self out of the wa­ter and we be­gin our as­cent back to the foot­path which leads us to Two Bridges. Meet­ing sev­eral walk­ers along the way they seem sur­prised by our sto­ries of the hid­den de­lights within the jewel-like river snaking through the val­ley far be­low, hav­ing en­quired “caught any thing?”. Whether they be­lieve us doesn’t mat­ter be­cause the last few hours are in­deli­bly etched within my mind, a mo­ment in time to rem­i­nisce upon when I’m no longer able to nav­i­gate these rock-strewn wa­ters. The hus­tle and bus­tle of tourists gorg­ing on cream teas and sup­ping pints as we ar­rive at the car park is a re­alit y check but as I wave good­bye to Henr y, my urge is to con­tinue fish­ing. Leav­ing the crowds be­hind I point the Hi-Lux to­wards the East Dart and let day­dreams be­gin.

Words: Nick Hart Pic­tures: Henry Gil­bey

Nick con­sults the map to plan his ex­plo­ration of the River Dart. A palm-sized wild brownie prior to re­leas­ing back into the Dart.

Per­fec­tion. We won’t bore you with rea­sons why – just look at it!

Such beau­ti­ful fish from a tiny brook, worth thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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