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Dartmoor By Night is a new piece by me in the Eat, Sleep, Fish online magazine – it’s mostly about that first Sea Trout and what Dartmoor means to me, especially the magic of the place after dark.

There’s loads of good stuff in the issue this month, as per usual, so I’m chuffed to have top billing.

 

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Dartmoor Sea Trout

On the last day of the 2012 season a sea trout swam between my legs as I was concentrating on fishing a dry fly through a pool. Later on, I saw a pair jumping at the head of the same pool and ever since then I’ve wanted to catch one. As Friday night drifted into Saturday morning, I finally managed it.

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It’s been a long time in the making, especially as I started in April. I didn’t really expect to catch anything in April, but it seemed like a good idea to get used to fishing in the dark. Over the last couple of months I’ve got slowly better at that, and the reward is very much worth it. I’m still chuffed to bits.

A Man Among Midges

The South West Lakes Trust have a range of fishing for brown and rainbow trout, some of it stocked and some of the wild fishing is free with an EA Licence. I’m a river man myself, but the sight of a reservoir surface boiling with rising fish is hard to resist.

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What I had forgotten to take into account where the midges. I’ve often thought the landscape of the South West reminiscent of Scotland, and it seems where the water is still we even have the black curse of the midge.

Meldon Reservoir

I own insect repellent, I use it for my night expeditions for sea trout, but I left it at home. Still, if you can stand it there are some nice fish to be caught. Proving myself to be a total non-expert on Stillwater fly fishing I cast at the rises as you might to a river fish, waiting as long as I could for a take before moving down the bank away from the darkening cloud of tiny biting insects that gathered around me. They get everywhere. In your ears, up your nose, even inside your clothes.

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The idea of free fishing is a fantastic one to someone who grew up in the South East, and I recommend it if you have a few hours to spare. Just make sure to pack the Jungle Formula.

Dart Double

Not, as you might expect, a double figure fish from the River Dart (though I wouldn’t say no). Instead, it’s two fish…

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DSCF1368 One from the West Dart…

DSCF1358and the other from the East Dart, on the same day, with the same fly. I even found an especially sharp underwater rock to smash my leg into with all the grace of a drowning Wildebeest.

Secrets and Flies is a new article, by me, in the Eat.Sleep.Fish ezine about fishing a secret trout stream with Pete Tyjas, the Devon School Of Fly Fishing legend. Please have a read if you’ve got time – the whole of Issue 17 has lots of good stuff in it, absolutely free.

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For my birthday I fished a renowned early season sea trout hotspot, the Totnes Weir Pool. I had a day ticket and a night’s accommodation at the Sea Trout Inn, Staverton.

On the road across Dartmoor we passed an old yellow minibus parked in a lay-by. The black calligraphic letters on the side spelled out the name of my old school. Fifteen years ago, on the same trip, I had begun the love affair with Dartmoor that saw me pack up a perfectly sensible life in London and come West. As a sign of what might be in store that night, good or bad, it felt like powerful medicine.

What could go wrong? Well, pretty much everything as it turns out. Rain had the river out of sorts, I fished it anyway but no fish were moving and I had the place to myself. I like having places to myself, but this is a spot were queues aren’t unheard of when the going’s good.

In the afternoon, while I waited for night and the tide to fall, I went for a walk to relieve some of the nervous tension. The lane I chose took me past a churchyard full of daffodils and down to an old stone bridge over a stream next to a railway line. The wind would have tugged gently at the pages of my book, if I’d been carrying one. A whistle made me look up to see a steam train chug around the bend in the track along the tree line of a small wood. Smoke billowed, the whistle sounded again, and I decided that I must have fallen through a wormhole.

From a fishing point of view, Dartmoor is that little bit harder than the lowland rivers, most of it fits into two categories. There’s the classic ‘pocket water’ of pools separated by rapids, and smoother runs over gravel with trailing weed growth. The water, usually, is crystal clear and that, together with the high, open banks, makes staying hidden difficult. Regardless, the scenery is worth it. The sweeping landscape is impossible to truly capture in a photograph. There’s always the chance of seeing a Kingfisher or Dipper at work, and I’ve flushed the odd pair of Snipe from the marshier sections. In Spring, the cuckoo can be heard and in Summer flocks of Swallows patrol the sky above the grasses, on the banks you might see Otter tracks. And then there’s the simple pleasure of eating a sausage roll next to a stream under a clear sky in the company of Chaffinches.

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Remembering old lessons

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that, since the trout season opened on March 15th, it’s been cold enough to freeze the balls off a Polar Bear. Under normal circumstances I would have been tempted to stay indoors, but the start of the season is not a normal circumstance and I had to go out.

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Dartmoor, I was reminded on discovering I’d left my jacket at home, is that bit colder than the rest of Devon. We know that the season comes to an end early, with the month of September being generally slow, but it strikes me that it starts late as well.

On the upside, its rivers run crystal clear not long after a flood when most would still be coloured with mud. At least that means the fish will see your fly, even if they choose to ignore it. And for the most part, they did with one exception.

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I worked my way up the East Dart, having re-learnt that the West Dart is slower to start, and covered many pools and runs that last year I know held fish. Whether the floods of winter have driven them out or they were still asleep I couldn’t say, but they weren’t coming out to play. Optimism and confidence are fragile things, made brittler still by the biting cold, and I was on the verge of packing up (I’d already switched from upstream drift to downstream swing) when a plump little trout snatched at my nymph. We danced for a while in the current before going our separate ways, in my case back to the car.

What counts as having caught a fish is as complicated as losing your virginity. There are all manner of caveats and conundrums that can plague the overly analytical (of which I’m one), especially when you were always going to let them go at the end. The true moment comes when you no longer care and I was happy just to know that a) the river wasn’t completely empty, and b) I haven’t forgotten how to do it. Long-range catch and release is the purest form you know.