Game Fishing Articles: Fishing Tips and Advice

Salmon fishing on the
Fowey in Cornwall

These angling articles, some written specifically for Get Hooked, will help you get the most out of your fly fishing in the Westcountry.

There is advice on tackle, bait and where to fish. Some are specific to particular areas, others more general. Even seasoned local anglers are sure to find some useful information among them. Not all are advice, some are humorous, others intend to inform on ecological and environmental issues. We are sure you will enjoy reading them.

A Limit of Twelve

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Mike Weaver selects a dozen flies for trout on rivers and lakes

When the editor of Get Hooked asked me to come up with a dozen trout flies for all waters – both rivers and lakes – my reaction was something between incredulity and panic. A quick look at a couple of my fly boxes revealed dozen of patterns and I am sure that I could have produced a good reason for including every one of them. But a closer look revealed that a much smaller number showed the wear and tear of frequent use, while perhaps the majority were still in a relatively pristine state. So, perhaps the range of flies that catch most of my trout is rather narrower than the contents of the fly boxes would at first suggest.

Here then is a selection of 12 flies that season after season deliver the goods on all types of trout fisheries, starting with the rivers.

When the season opens, the streams are usually high and cold with little sign of rising trout, so it is necessary to get the fly down to the action area – and that means close to the riverbed.

Stream Fishing in Devon

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Bryan Martin, Devon Fly Fishing

Not so long ago, my river fishing was restricted to Saturday afternoons, having worked ‘up country’ from Monday to Friday. Those few precious hours were enough to completely de-stress me as everything in my head, except the job in hand, melted away. This is stress busting at its best and should really be available on the NHS.

Although relaxing, concentration is essential for success. Take your time, observe everything in detail. This is no time to rush. With careful observation you will become familiar with your stretch of river and recognise the places that hold the best fish. Often these are difficult to fish. Overhanging branches, irregular currents and other obstacles conspire to prevent your fly from reaching your quarry without arousing suspicion. Over time, with experimentation, practice and a bit of luck thrown in, you will deceive your fish. If you don’t lose a few flies en route, you’re not trying hard enough.

Trout in High Summer

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

When I first came to the South West over 35 years ago, the general wisdom was that fly fishing for brown trout on our rivers was at its best between start of the season and early June, and then became so difficult that it was hardly worth fishing for the rest of the season. I had a vivid reminder of this state of affairs when recently looking at some records of the old Devon River Authority, which stocked the upper Teign over a period of four years in the late 1960s. Each year the Authority carefully analysed the catches and in 1968, when 25 per cent of the stocked trout were caught, 89 per cent had been taken by the end of April, with seven per cent in May and less than one per cent in the remaining months of the season. With even stocked trout tough to catch after the end of spring, what chance did anglers have with the wild fish once summer had arrived?

How things have changed. Today, advances in tackle and techniques have made it possible to cast a fly right throughout the summer with every chance of success, even through the middle of the day in low clear water.

With the arrival of high summer you could, of course, await the arrival of evening to improve your chances and there is no doubt that fishing the evening rise in a big hatch of insects can be very exciting. The problem is that evening hatches are far less dependable than we would like to think and all fly fishers can recall far too many evenings when little or nothing has happened and hardly a trout has broken the surface. And there is also the fact that time runs out all too quickly and we find ourselves frantically making the most of the dying light.

My own preference has always been for a leisurely session during the day, quietly wading up a stream and casting a fly into every likely spot or to any trout that rises.

And trout are not the only quarry on those long summer days. On suitable stretches of the Exe and Tamar systems the grayling fishing can be at its best in high summer, and any river with a run of sea trout can give you a spectacular surprise from time to time. However, the fish can be ultra spooky in high summer and your tackle, approach and technique have to be up to the challenge.

Taking advantage of advances in tackle is key to success, and developments in rods, lines, leaders and flies have all contributed to making it possible to go out with every expectation of success on a bright summer day. Terminal tackle took a great leap forward with the introduction of ultra-fine nylon for the point of your leader, light-weight rods with real power have become the norm as a result of carbon fibre, tiny nymphs sink quickly thanks to bead heads, and breathable waders make it possible to fish though the day without succumbing to heat stroke.

So here is my tackle selection for a session on the river in the noonday sun of summer. An AFTM 4 line in double or forward taper is about right and the rod to propel it can be 7 ft or 7 ft 6 in for the confined spaces of the small overgrown streams, or 8 ft 6 in on a big river like the Exe. For many years my choice of leader has been 5 ft of braided butt, attached to about 1 ft 6 in of 5X (.006 in) nylon, followed by 3 ft of 6X (.005 in) or 7X (.004 in) for the point. For really tough conditions it can help to go to a point of 8X.

Hatches of flies from the stream on a hot summer day are likely to be sparse but a variety of land insects will be falling on the water, and a Klinkhamer with its trailing body suggesting a waterlogged insect works well. Many fish, especially grayling and sea trout, will often be lying in deeper water and then a small goldhead or copperhead nymph will get down to the action area. You can hedge your bets, as I often do, by using the so-called New Zealand rig – tie on a bushy Klinkhamer, attach 2 ft of fine nylon to the bend of the hook with a tucked half-blood knot, and then tie a small goldhead Hare’s Ear Nymph to the other end.

Deep wading with body waders is essential on most rivers in the South West and that throws up the problem of spooking the fish with wading ripples. Such ripples can never be totally eliminated on the smoother stretches of river but a wading staff makes a huge difference in wading slowly and stealthily.

So, if you want to put your fly fishing skills to a real test, try a day on the stream in July or August and, providing the chosen river has not been devastated by extreme drought, you may get a very pleasant surprise – and a real feeling of earning your fish.

Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Brian Marshall is Chairman, Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust

The River Hampshire Avon

The high levels of activity and co-operation described in the last edition continue and begin to achieve results.

The formal complaint to the European Commission by Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust, contending that the Irish mixed stock salmon drift net fishery was illegal, has succeeded. As a result of this, and international pressure from all the north Atlantic salmon nations’ individuals and NGO’s, the Irish Government has closed the fishery with immediate effect. Displaced fishermen will benefit from a Government €30 million compensation and community development scheme. The SAC River Hampshire Avon, with the Rivers Test and Itchen, were scientifically proven by tagging projects to lose the highest percentage of their returning spawners to those nets. Allowing these fish uninterrupted passage home will progressively enhance the breeding stock, and be an important contribution to the river’s long term recovery.

Even so the Avon produced 147 salmon to the rods in the 2006 season. A season shortened by most laudable voluntary suspensions of fishing when high water temperatures threatened fish welfare. All of these fish were returned alive, as were those caught by the Mudeford seine netsmen fishing for sea trout, bass and mullet. We look forward to the contribution these extra returning fish will make, but must continue the existing restraints for some years yet.

A coalition of riparian owners, angling clubs and the Environment Agency are supporting a Wessex Salmon trial of ‘in stream’ incubation using egg boxes, to test if juvenile salmon production can be enhanced by circumventing compacted and silted gravel stream beds.

A similar co-operative effort by WS&RT, The Roach Club, Christchurch and Ringwood & District Angling Clubs and riparian owners have funded the restoration of two major ox-bows, and the construction of a number of coarse fish fry bays on the river.

Initial dip net monitoring of one of the ox bows by Sparsholt College Fisheries Science Department shows very encouraging populations of juvenile roach, chub and dace. The shelter they have found is most timely with the river in almost constant flood conditions since December.

Trials to assist roach production by installing fontinalis boards in appropriate sites are also underway, together with the monitored transfer of juvenile roach from an existing, prolific lake breeding population into carefully selected river habitat.

Whilst the tasks are varied in complexity, duration and cost the objectives are the same; the restoration to historic abundance, and conservation of this wonderful river’s habitat for all the resident species - salmonids, cyprinids, invertebrates, flora, terrestrial and avian fauna.

I mentioned earlier that at last our river flows have moved above their long term average and, for the first time since 2003, the groundwater levels are reaching their long term averages, all filled by the repeated rainfall events of the past four months. It delights me to see the wet meadows covered and the water meadows all heavily populated by huge flocks of wading birds

Those river anglers who have ventured out to find slacks and areas of calm water are catching some of the Avon’s superb specimens of barbel, roach and chub whilst, during the mild weather, the lakes continue to offer impressive bags of bream, tench and carp including an impressive 46lb specimen.

This illustrates that, whilst a great deal of conservation work is underway, our aim is to further improve an already outstanding river that continues to offer quality angling in beautiful countryside whatever discipline individual anglers prefer.

Take to the Hills

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Spectacular scenery, miles of fishing to explore, hard-fighting wild brown trout, and a price tag that doesn't require a second mortgage - that is moorland trout fishing and here in the South West there is plenty to choose from. Head for the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks and you will find miles of sparkling streams, whether on the high open moors or in the deep wooded valleys that tumble down from the hills. The trout may not be very big, but there are plenty of them and, even after a day that has produced modest catches, there is something very special about wandering for hours along a wild river in unspoiled country.

But, as ever, there is a snag. Every year I meet fly fishermen who have ventured onto our moorland streams for the first time. They have enjoyed the experience and caught a fair number of wild trout but, they complain, hardly anything exceeded 15 centimetres - that's six inches in old money. Yet they have been fishing water where I know that the regulars have been taking plenty of browns from 20 centimetres up to 30 centimetres or more. So where are they going wrong and what can they do to improve their performance?

Many newcomers immediately turn to the fly pattern as the cause of their lack of success but the fly is rarely the problem. On the moors, virtually any suitable pattern will take fish, provided you fish it in the right place, at the right time, in the right way - and, above all, make sure that you have not scared every trout within reach before you even make the first cast. So here are some tips to help you make contact with the better-than-average trout that can seem to be so elusive.

Traditionally, many anglers fished the moors with three wet flies which were cast across the river and allowed to swing round on the current, but the Dartmoor and Exmoor streams are often too narrow for this method, so you are more likely to be successful when casting upstream with a dry fly, nymph or wet fly. As the trout will be facing upstream in the lively current, you have already gone a long way towards avoiding detection by approaching the fish from behind, and wearing drab clothes and keeping off the skyline will add to your chances of success.

Newcomers waste far too much time fishing unproductive water, so here are two places to avoid like the plague. Firstly those deep still pools where you can see the trout swimming around in the depths, but they can also see you and your chances of catching them are virtually zero. And secondly there are the shallow riffles, which are easy to fish but rarely hold anything worth catching. Look out for broken water of medium pace and medium depth, with plenty of cover within easy reach. On the open moors, cover usually means boulders and the pockets and runs on a boulder-strewn stretch can be very productive. And keep on the move. Moorland trout usually come in the first cast or two, so don't waste time fishing a spot that is producing nothing. I expect to fish at least a mile of river in a three-hour session.

To get the best out of moorland fly fishing you need to master the techniques of both the dry fly and the upstream wet fly or nymph - and there are times when a combination of the two is very effective. For dry fly fishing you need a good floater like a Humpy, Elk Hair Caddis or well-hackled Adams, while for wet flies and nymphs you need look no further than traditional patterns like Pheasant Tail, Half Stone, Blue Upright, Red Palmer and Hare's Ear Nymph. These flies should be tied mainly on size 16 and 14 hooks, with a few on 18 and 12 hooks. For wet fly fishing, two flies a couple of feet apart are enough, and it is worth trying a bright floater on the dropper and a drab nymph on the point, the theory being that the dropper catches the attention of the trout and the nymph fools it.

Whether wet or dry fly fishing, work slowly upstream, making a cast or two into every spot that looks likely to hold a trout, and paying particular attention to anywhere you see a fish rise. As the flies drop back towards you, always keep in touch by lifting the rod, so that when a fish takes you only need tighten to set the hook.

Upstream fishing with a dry or wet fly is best when the trout are feeding near the surface but there are times, especially early in the season, when they are almost glued to the bottom. At such times you need a fly that really bumps along the bottom and then a bead head comes into its own. A size 14 Hare's Ear or Pheasant Tail Nymph with a copper or gold bead at the head will often take trout when nothing else will, and your chances will be enhanced by an indicator on the leader to help you spot the takes. I once thought that I could spot any take without such aids but I have long since realised how many fish are missed without an indicator.

If you are planning your first outing for moorland trout, timing is vital to give you a good chance of early success. Eager to get started, many make that first attempt in March or April when the season opens, but they hardly see a fish and don't bother to try again. Even the local experts can struggle in the first few weeks so be patient and wait until late May or June. During this period, the trout normally feed all day and the tough times when the rivers become very low and clear should still be in the future.

There are always, of course, exceptions to any rule, as a day last summer was to prove. It was mid August, when the rivers are often sluggish and the trout very dour, but heavy rains had brought the Dartmoor streams into spate. The bigger rivers were still high and coloured but the tiny Cherrybrook was dropping fast and had cleared to the colour of tea. If the fish were feeding, it would be difficult to fail, so I walked downstream a mile from Upper Cherrybrook Bridge, tied a 12 Red Palmer on the dropper and a 12 Dunkeld on the point, and fished back up to the bridge through the middle of the day. The trout were immediately attracted to the two bright flies and nearly 50 trout up to 28 cm were caught, with fish on both dropper and point on two occasions. Some mediocre outings on Cherrybrook in the past few years had made me wonder if stocks had declined, but on a day when conditions were just about perfect, the fishing was as good as it ever was.

Dartmoor and Exmoor are ideal for really stretching your legs while you are fishing and the following few examples are typical of what the energetic angler can enjoy. On a fine day it is well worth fishing up the East Dart from Postbridge, with some of the best fishing in a lovely series of small pools about a mile above the bridge. A couple of miles fishing will take you almost to Sandy Hole Pass and then you can walk directly back to your car over Broad Down, with magnificent views to the south. Another favourite is to park at Watersmeet on the East Lyn and fish up to Rockford, ideally on a sunny day in late May when the Black Gnats are swarming over the river. Some of the large pools will be full of trout holding just below the surface and rising to anything that looks edible, but watch out for the smaller and less obvious pockets that are often more productive.

My local river is the Teign where the stretch from Fingle Bridge up to Dogmarsh Bridge is just about right for a three-hour session. The middle part of this piece of water below Sharp Tor tumbles down through a series of rocky pools that offer some of the best trout fishing on the upper Teign.

Sea Trout Fishing in Devon

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Roddy Rae - Reffis/Stanic

The Editor has requested that I do an article on Sea Trout fishing in Devon hence the title. It would be easy for me just to write a few paragraphs on my own experiences of fishing the Teign, Taw, Torridge, Mole or Dart and leave the reader with the feeling of ‘oh what a lucky bugger he is doing this for a living’, but you will be pleased, I hope, to read that’s not what this article is about.

The wealth of Sea Trout fishing available to the visiting angler in the Westcountry is matched, I believe, only by Wales. Rivers such as those that I have already mentioned plus many more, all of which can weave their magic spell on you and send you home in the early hours wondering to yourself how can I crack the code?

The Saltwater Experience - Fly fishing in saltwater

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

As a lad, about 45 years ago I owned a fabulous little rod, about 8ft long, split cane, with a handle that you would reverse, making the reel seat either at the very end, or about a foot up the rod. This made it a great all-rounder, a fly rod, spinning rod and short bait rod and everything else in between. I was very lucky, growing up in the town of Bude, on the North Cornish Coast with a variety of fishing on my doorstep.

I would walk up the canal tow path to a little stream known as Sharlands, at it's widest no greater than 10ft where I could fish for magic little brownies with either fly, or spin with the proverbial Devon minnow. Sharlands then ran into a feeder, which divided into the Bude Canal and into the River Neat, which ran for about 2 miles before reaching Bude.

Going Wild

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

There is something a bit special about tiny streams, especially for the wild trout fisherman. Our native wild brown trout is ideally suited to thrive on the smallest rivers and fortunately the south west has more than its share of these exciting waters, whether high on Dartmoor, Exmoor or Bodmin Moor, among the meadows of the rolling country of mid Devon or on the silky little chalk streams of Wessex.

The great advantage of these tiny waters, many of which you could almost jump across, is that they usually give up their secrets readily, and the hot spots can be identified with an ease rarely possible on larger rivers. So the first trip to a new piece of fishing can often produce as good a catch as anything experienced on later visits.

Success on small rivers, like anywhere else, is all about using the right tackle and techniques, and that means scaling things down. You will certainly need a short fly rod, but not one of those ghastly implements that used to be called “brook rods”.

River Trouting - Tips for Success

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

The margin between success and relative failure in fishing can be very small and this is particularly so in the case of the type of angling that I enjoy most – fly-fishing for trout on rivers. Indeed, there is an old saying that ten per cent of the fishermen catch ninety per cent of the fish and, although this sentiment may include a degree of exaggeration, it is probably pretty close to the truth. So, if you wish to join that small percentage of really successful fly fishers and clean up on the streams, what can you do to achieve success? Many anglers never get past the barrier of thinking that there is a single key to success and that a wonder fly rod or an irresistible fly will guarantee a constant flow of trout coming to the landing net. Fortunately there is no such “magic bullet” and if there were fishing would soon lose most of its fascination. Success, when it comes, is the result of getting lots of little things right, so here are a few tips to increase your strike rate with the trout on our rivers.

Fowey River Water - A brief fisherman's review

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Bill Eliot, Hon Sec. Liskeard & District A.C.

The River Fowey is a prime Cornish spate river giving excellent salmon and seatrout fishing. It is one of only two rivers in the south west of England holding its targets for sustainable salmonid stocks.

Both salmon and seatrout prosper by breeding in the clean waters of the high country which is Bodmin Moor. However the nature of the water in the River Fowey is made complex because the river is used by the water utility company (S.W.W.) as a water conduit. From their reservoirs at Colliford and at Siblyback on Bodmin Moor, water is released according to the needs of the seasonal population of Cornwall to the treatment plant at Restormel just above the tidal limit. This complexity affects the migratory salmon and seatrout using the river to breed and it affects where they lie and how we may fish for them.

The Fowey catchment has five important feeders, all of which start high on Bodmin Moor and tumble down off the moor into the right hand bank or northwestern side of the main river

Get Hooked! - On the Westcountry

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Tucked away, in this comparatively small island, are still places, mercifully, where footprints are few. Places where you can, just for a moment, rejoice in wild company and glimpse at a less populous past. Most of these are situated westerly: and a very unfair proportion can be found in the West Country: damn it! I say this, because I am a long way away and I can’t fish the huge variety of waters and diversity of species that this area has to offer, as much as I would like. I guess this makes the experience all the richer. I think too, that taking the West Country, as a whole is just a little misleading. Do we talk about the imperious coast-line and the wolf of the waves: bass? The more languid mullet or wrasse? Do we talk about the brutes of the channel wrecks and deep sea water?

Sexy Trout

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Dr. Stewart Owen

You may hear anglers speak of triploid fish, especially at trout fisheries. Triploids are in fact sterile fish, but why do we need them and where do they come from? Read on and fish biologist Dr Stewart Owen will answer these questions and give an insight into a fascinating aspect of fisheries management.

Why do we need sterile fish?

When there is a risk of introducing a new species to a fishery or catchment area, fisheries officers and managers apply the precautionary principle. There must be the 'least risk' of introduced fish affecting those already present. Where a species is non-native such as rainbow trout, fisheries managers do their utmost to prevent a viable population establishing and so reduce the theoretical risk to the natural populations of other species already present. In some cases such as with our native brown trout, the genetic diversity between river systems has recently been realised. Stocking fish of one particular blood-line in a river system containing fish of a different genetic history is now increasingly restricted. To allow some fisheries to function it is necessary to stock with either fish from a particular compatible source (such as those spawned from resident fish) or stock with sterile fish.

In the UK climate rainbow trout spawn in late winter (Jan-March) and as used to be the normal situation before fish were sterilised, the female fish swell with eggs during this period. A female invests all of her energy into producing the best eggs she can. This means that she mobilises her own muscle protein and fat from her body and sends this energy to the eggs. When you catch a fish 'in egg' her flesh quality will be poor compared to when she is not producing eggs. If a triploid fish is not able to produce eggs, then the benefit for the angler is that the flesh quality remains throughout the year.

How do fish become sterile?

There are several methods used to sterilise fish. If the fish already exist then they can be prevented from maturing using chemicals or hormonal treatments. This is effective, but very expensive and time consuming. But a method is commonly used to produce fish that are sterile from birth. This is called triploidy.

Like us, fish are made up from genetic information gained from both parents. Half of the genes come from the father, and half from the mother. Genes are the instructions to a cell of how to build proteins. They are stored in long strings of DNA that are tightly coiled into units called chromosomes. Different species have a different number of chromosomes containing different numbers of genes. A single set of genes from a parent is called a haploid set. At fertilisation, the egg and sperm come together and pair their haploid sets so the resultant baby has two complementary sets of genetic information and is referred to as being Diploid. That is it has two haploid sets. A diploid fish goes on to develop into a normal fish and will mature and reproduce when the time is right.

If the egg is physically shocked shortly after fertilisation occurs, then it is possible to produce a fish with three sets of chromosomes, a triploid fish. The egg does not in fact manufacture an extra set for itself. The extra genetic information actually comes from the female parent and is present before fertilisation. Under normal unshocked fertilisation this information is lost from the egg as it is fertilised. But a shock, such as an increase in temperature, physical shaking or an increase in environmental pressure prevents this information leaving the fertilised cell. There is no genetic modification. Genes have not been changed or manufactured. The number of chromosomes are increased because a set are not lost on fertilisation. The fertilised egg is left with three copies of genetic information rather than two. Two from the mother, and one from the father. Triploid fish grow and develop as normal. After all they have the same information within them as diploid fish. But when it comes to producing eggs for themselves, the three sets of information do not divide conveniently and so no viable eggs are produced by hen fish. Triploid males do not produce viable sperm.

This is actually a simplified account of the process. Many fish naturally have many sets of identical chromosomes. Some species are naturally tetraploid (four sets), hexaploid (six) or even heptaploid (seven). The term given to more than diploid is polyploid. Wild trout are not in fact diploid to start with. Native wild trout swimming in the rivers of Britain are polyploid naturally. So as a trout embryo is made triploid, the fish could actually contain 18 sets of genetic information.

How do fish farmers produce triploids?

To make fish triploid the newly fertilised eggs are physically shocked. In practice this means the eggs are placed in a special pressure vessel and subjected to a very high pressure. The timing after fertilisation and the actual pressure are critical to the process. If the farmer times this wrong then mistakes can be made. The balance is a fine one. Too little and it does not cause triploidy whilst too much pressure kills the eggs. It is difficult to judge the success until the fish can be sampled and examined under the microscope, or mature as adults. The triploid eggs go on to hatch and grow normally into adult fish. However it must be remembered that the process is a biological one and as such triploidisation is rarely 100% effective. Some fish of each batch seem to escape the process and mature as normal fish. We expect our suppliers to provide fry that are normally much better than 90% triploid. That is we generally expect that one fish in ten from a batch of triploids will develop eggs in maturity. It is therefore important that the farmer grades the fish to remove any hen fish before these fish are stocked into critical waters. This is a point often overlooked and a batch of triploids may still contain a small number of fertile fish.

Where do our fish actually come from?

In order to supply trout all year round for the UK markets, eggs are sourced from around the world as different geographic regions provide spawning at different times of the year. Of course some producers spawn fish artificially all year around, but UK fish are typically British, Danish and South African in origin. Eggs also come from America, Canada, Iceland, Faeroes, France, Chile and Australia. This is a tightly regulated industry with government ministry regulation and inspection that insures full trace-ability with veterinary health checks. Once the eggs have passed through the hatcheries they are 'grown-on' at one of the many restocking farms throughout the UK from where they are traded until they reach the anglers hook.

Grayling in the South West

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

A cool wind was blowing down the River Barle on that March day a quarter of a century ago. Around midday the trout had come to the surface and several good fish had taken my dry fly but by mid afternoon the surface activity had ceased and I was ready to call it a day. Then, as my fly drifted down a smooth run, I saw a shadow move up beneath it and drift back with the current for several feet before delicately taking the fly. My strike met a solid resistance and, as I saw the large upright dorsal fin holding the current, I realised that I was into my first grayling since coming to live in Devon. Two more casts produced two more grayling, both close to a pound, and I was reminded of something that I had learned on many other waters - grayling are shoal fish and like the company of other grayling.

Before moving to Devon some 30 years ago I had fished regularly for grayling on the rivers of the Welsh Marches and the chalk streams of Wessex, so I was pleased to re-establish my acquaintance with this lovely fish on the Barle. Grayling are not indigenous to the south west, but arrived as part of the fashion for extending the range of the species through artificial stocking that started in the late nineteenth century. In Devon and Cornwall the grayling is found in two river systems, the Exe and the Tamar, but its distribution is often patchy and unpredictable so locating the grayling hot spots can depend heavily on luck.

I recall an early spring day on the Ottery in Cornwall when I was fishing for trout on the topmost of the Arundell Arms beats. Conditions looked ideal for trout and fish were soon coming to my dry fly - a size 16 Adams. However, those rising fish were grayling with the trout strangely absent and when I called it a day I had caught 15 grayling and just one solitary trout. Since then I have fished that beat many times but failed to catch another grayling, though I have taken plenty further down the Ottery.

A similar experience occurred on another Arundell Arms beat, this time on the Lew. Once again it was spring and with nothing rising I was steadily catching trout on a weighted Hare's Ear Nymph. As I approached a small pool, I saw a swirl in the shallows at the tail and when my nymph dropped into the steam near the fish it was taken instantly and I had soon netted a lovely grayling of 14 inches. Two more grayling of the same size quickly followed, but I have never taken a grayling from the Lew since that spring day.

My most consistent sport with grayling on the Tamar system has been on the main river itself, especially in the Polson Bridge area. There I have often found shoals of rising grayling and settled down to picking them off with a small dry fly.

My most consistent sport on a Devon river has been on the lower Exe, where the grayling are of good average size and rise well on the right day - and the ideal day is when there is hardly a breath of wind. This is an exposed stretch of river and the surface is easily whipped up by the wind, making it difficult to spot the delicate rises of the grayling. On a calm day, however, you can locate big shoals of grayling sipping on the smooth stretches and enjoy first-rate dry fly fishing.

It is in Wessex, on the River Avon in the Woodford Valley between Amesbury and Salisbury, that I have taken some of my biggest catches of grayling, especially when nymphing in October and November. On a sunny autumn day when it has been possible to spot the fish in the clear water, stalking the grayling can be both productive and exciting. The trick is to locate a shoal against a patch of light-coloured gravel, which makes it possible to spot each fish and see it take your weighted nymph. By starting with the fish at the downstream end of the shoal and pulling each fish quickly downstream as soon as it is hooked, it is possible to take several grayling before the shoal is spooked. Those Avon grayling may not be the biggest, but there are plenty of them.

For big grayling, there are few better places than the Frome below Dorchester, where fish of well over two pounds are common. Permits for the Dorchester Fishing Club are restricted to the trout season but that gives you plenty of opportunity to catch the big grayling on this fishery. I recall fishing a clear pool where a big shoal of grayling up to over three pounds could be seen lying in about four feet of water. A heavily-weighted shrimp pattern was cast well upstream and allowed to drift through the shoal, with spectacular results. The first cast produced a "tiddler" of little more than a pound, but it was quickly followed by two fish of 2¾ pounds each, and another of the same size for my companion. It is in the winter, when club members fish with bait, that some of the really big Frome grayling of well over three pounds are caught.

In the south west, grayling are also present in the Bristol Avon, Tone, Brue and Stour, but I have yet to fish for them on these rivers.

Tackle and techniques for grayling fishing are really the same as those for river trout fishing. When the fish are rising I sometimes use the traditional grayling patterns like a Red Tag, Bradshaw's Fancy or Grayling Witch, with their brightly-coloured tags, but the more imitative flies that are normally used for trout are just as effective. On the chalk streams, where sight fishing with a weighted nymph is very effective, a size 12 or 14 leaded shrimp or a goldhead Hare's Ear Nymph will usually do the trick.

In the past, the grayling has often been loathed by those who manage our more famous trout streams and great efforts made to remove what has been seen as an unwelcome interloper. Fortunately, such efforts were always doomed to fail, as the grayling is a great survivor, and in recent years more and more anglers have come to realise its true value as worthy adversary for the fly fisherman. If you have yet to catch one of these beautiful fish, you have a treat in store.

Grayling in the South West

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

The grayling, in the past often maligned as vermin on trout rivers, is at last being recognised as a truly sporting and wild fish.

The fact that their season continues after the close of trout fishing, and that they take a fly readily, reinforces their attraction to the thinking, sporting angler.
A surge of interest has taken place in recent years, starting slowly back in the 1970's with the publication of Reg Righyni's classic book `Grayling', and the formation of the Grayling Society, and continues to gather momentum today, as ever more fishermen pursue this most attractive and elegant fish.

Distribution in the South West
The Wessex region is home to some fine grayling, with the Wiltshire/Hampshire Avon system probably having the densest population in Britain. The Frome holds some very large fish, certainly in the 31b class, mostly downstream of Dorchester. I believe there are grayling in the Tone, then moving west into Devon and Cornwall we have two isolated but thriving populations in the Exe and Tamar systems. On the Exe they can be found all the way up from Exeter to the Barle junction and into the lowest pools on the Barle. On the Tamar they are well distributed throughout the main river and most of the tributaries, particularly the Inny, Lyd and Ottery. In was on the upper reaches of the Inny, on a cold, grey day in March 1967, that I saw my very first grayling, and I have been fascinated ever since by "The lady of the stream".

A light, crisp actioned fly rod of around 9 feet, matched with a floating line no heavier than AFTM 5, is perfect for most waters. I prefer a double tapered line, it allows a more
delicate presentation and is more suited to roll casting, often essential on small streams. The reel should be a light nononsense job, well filled with line and backing, not for playing the fish but to minimise line coil and memory. I needle knot a 9ft knotless tapered leader (31b of 5x) and add 3 feet of 21b nylon as a tippett, attached with a three turn water knot. Waders are useful, with chest waders preferred. You will need all the other accessories you would normally carry when trouting, floatant, sinkant etc. Most essential though is a pair of long nosed forceps of similar to facilitate unhooking and returning your fish. Hooks should be barbless, I often catch salmon parr, unseasonable trout and even sea trout whilst fishing for grayling.

First, find your fish! On the clear waters of the Wessex trout streams careful observation with polaroids will soon reveal the fish. Grey shadows on the river bed, ever on the move to intercept a drifting nymph or lumbering caddis. Rising fish are on obvious give away, but are they grayling? or perhaps brown trout or salmon parr. The rise of a grayling can be seen to be slightly different to other game fish, due to the grayling's unique habit of lying hard on the river bed and rising almost vertically to the surface to engulf it's prey, and returning at once to the gravel. This causes the fish to make an oily, kidney shaped whorl on the surface of the water, often accompanied by a bubble as it turns a sort of somersault on it's way back to the river bed. In clear water the fish can often be seen emerging from the depths like a missile a split second before breaking the surface. In the absence of fly hatches and rising fish the only way to find your grayling is to fish all the likely looking areas and, once a fish has been landed, cover the area thoroughly as grayling often shoal. As the trout season ends and the water temperature drops this shoaling behaviour becomes more apparent, with some parts of the river completely devoid of fish, so it pays to know the sort of water the grayling prefer. Local advice and information can be invaluable, but if none is available look for steady, even flowing water of between 18 inches and 6 feet in depth, the colder the water the deeper the fish will be.

Wet and Dry Fly
Small wet trout flies, fished either up or downstream will take grayling in summer and early autumn, but are indiscriminate and far less efficient than dry fly or nymph.
A hatch of naturals, in any month of the year will bring grayling to the surface and provide superlative sport on a dry fly. The grayling is a fussy feeder and any untidy presentation will result in the fly being refused. From it's position on the river bed the grayling has a wide field of view, so the fly should land without disturbing the water and drift for several feet without dragging, in order to deceive her ladyship.

Fly patterns are less important than presentation, though if the insect on the water can be identified and matched by a suitable artificial, so much the better. Grayling will often feed on tiny flies and your box should contain a selection from size 12 down to 18 or 20. Despite taking tiny flies it is not unusual to catch grayling while spinning for salmon with a small Mepps and my biggest grayling, a two pounder, took a large lure at night while I was after sea trout! Many of the traditional grayling flies are still highly successful today. Fancy patterns such as Red Tag, Treacle Parkin and Bradshaw's Fancy are excellent. The modern range of cul-de-canard flies, with their highly imitative properties, are very hard to beat. The flies visibility to the angler is also very important, particularly in the fading light of and October or November afternoon. I like parachute style flies with a highly visible wing post of white calf tail or synthetic wool, the American elk hair caddis is also highly visible and can be very effective, even when caddis flies are absent. Grayling take a fly very quickly and your strike must be equally rapid if you are to hook your fish.

Nymph Fishing
There will, of course, be times when there are no naturals hatching and the surface of the river slides past unbroken by the rings of rising fish. Now is the time for the nymph, without doubt the most effective way of catching grayling. The late Frank Sawyer, river keeper on the officer's club water on the Wiltshire Avon at Netheravon, invented his famous killer bug purely as a way of catching and removing unwanted grayling from a trout fishery. On the chalk streams where the clear water allows fish to be stalked and targeted, cast your weighted nymph upstream of the fish and allow it to drift downstream, keeping an eagle eye on the point where your leader penetrates the surface film. It pays to grease the leader down to the tippet knot and sink the tippet with fullers earth. When the fish takes the knot will twitch or be pulled under and your strike must be instantaneous. If a fish keeps refusing your fly try the `induced take' by lifting the rod just before the nymph reaches the fish. This lifts the nymph enticingly just in front of the fish's nose and few grayling can resist it.

When the fish are not visible I use an indicator on the leader, either a tuft of wool treated with floatant or a pea-sized lump of Float-do or similar material. The position of the indicator determines the depth at which the nymph will fish and, crucially, indicates the take. Obviously a heavy nymph is needed to fish deep water and I am a great fan of the bead headed types. Gold and copper heads work well on most patterns such as hare's ear, pheasant tail and even the original killer bug.

Caution and Conservation
Grayling share their habitat with trout and salmon which spawn during the autumn months. CHECK with the owners of the fishery to see whether fishing for grayling is allowed after the close of the salmon and trout seasons. More importantly, if you can fish, DO NOT WADE anywhere near the pool tails between October and March. Fertile trout and salmon eggs will be buried in the gravel shallows and walking on them will damage our fish stocks for future years.

I would like to close with a word on conservation. At one time grayling were ruthlessly culled from trout streams by any means possible. This has been proven an ineffective as a way of reducing numbers and just reduces the average size of fish. Today most fisheries value the presence of grayling, they are an excellent indication of good water quality and happily co-exist with other game fish. In early autumn, when in their prime, grayling make excellent eating, but only take what you need (they are protected by law through the coarse fish close season, 16 March to 15 June inclusive and other bylaws may apply).

All out truly wild fish stocks are under threat these days and it would be nice to see anglers actively caring for the grayling and the rivers they inhabit.

Game Fishing in the South West

Submitted by admin on December 8, 2008 - 3:57pm

Wild brown trout on the moors, spring salmon in north Devon, sophisticated trout on the chalkstreams, big rainbows on famous reservoirs, night expeditions for sea trout, winter salmon in Cornwall - these are just a few of the pleasures awaiting the game fisherman in south west England.

And it is a long season too. Salmon are in season somewhere in the south west from February to 15 December, leaving a close season of little more than six weeks in the dead of winter. River fishing for trout or sea trout is available from mid March to mid October, and the growth of winter rainbow fisheries means that you can cast a fly to trout every month of the year.


For the visiting angler, the best opportunities for salmon are on the rivers of Devon, west Somerset and, especially late in the season, Cornwall.

In the past few years, the best spring salmon fishing has been on the Taw, which produced around 250 springers in 1996, with the Torridge also offering improved early fishing. Spring is traditionally the time for spinning but the fly-only restriction on these rivers from I May, which has been in place for many years, has given anglers greater confidence in the fly, which is now in increasing use right from opening day on 1 March. North Devon's other salmon river, the East Lyn, is a prolific little fishery and can produce very good fishing immediately after floods at any time in the season, though here all of the salmon fishing is with worm or spinner.

On most salmon rivers in the south west the best of the fishing is in summer and autumn, especially when there is sufficient rain to bring in good runs of grilse. At such times good fishing will be found on the Tamar, Dart, Teign, Taw, Torridge and others. The Exe, in particular, can produce excellent catches of grilse in late summer and a recent survey indicated that angling success rates on this river were the highest for salmon in England and Wales.

Although the Cornish rivers also produce summer salmon fishing, the Camel and Fowey are noted for their autumn and winter fishing, with salmon fishing continuing until 15 December.

In the east of the region, there is also salmon fishing on the Frome and Avon, though here it is less easy for the visiting angler to get a salmon permit.


Night fishing for sea trout is a real south west speciality, and especially on the Devon rivers. Around the end of April the early big sea trout have arrived in sufficient numbers for serious night expeditions by the keener anglers and numbers continue to grow right through to late summer. As the season progresses the average weight drops, especially with the arrival of the summer school peal which are often less than a pound.

If you are looking for a really big sea trout there are few better places than the lower Dart early in the season, where fish in excess of 10lb are caught in most seasons and sea trout of 61b to 81b are relatively common. With the exception of the Ex., the main rivers of the south west all offer plenty of opportunities for a night's sea trout fishing.


The river trout angler can choose between the silky chalk streams of Wessex and the turbulent moorland rivers of the far south west, with many variations between these two extremes. The chalk streams of the West Country may not have the international fame of the Test and Itchen to the east, yet still they provide outstanding dry fly and nymph fishing for high quality browns, and the price of a day's fishing is much more affordable. Look out for fishing on the upper Wiltshire Avon and its tributaries, or fisheries on the Frome and Piddle in Dorset.

If you are looking for wild trout in beautiful surroundings, without size being the main criterion, the bubbling streams of the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park offer endless opportunities. The trout may be of modest size but they are numerous and often free rising. Rivers like the upper Dart, Teign, East Lyn and Barle all offer plenty of day-ticket waters at reasonable prices.

Elsewhere there are plenty more opportunities for river trouting in the south west. Something similar to chalk stream fishing can be found on the little limestone rivers of the southernmost Cotswolds, and on the meadow streams of east Devon like the Otter. It is also worth searching out little-known streams like the Bray, upper Tone, Thrushell, Ottery, Yeo and many others that can produce surprisingly good trout fishing.

The development of trout fishing on water supply reservoirs in recent decades has been well documented, but it is often overlooked that this movement really got started at Blagdon Lake in Somerset back in 1904, producing browns and rainbows of sizes that most anglers had only dreamed of before. And it was Bristol Waterworks that boosted reservoir trout fishing again with the 1957 opening of Chew Valley Lake, only three miles from Blagdon Lake. Fortunately we can still enjoy the excellent trout fishing on both of these great lakes beneath the Mendip Hills, with the addition of many more trout lakes throughout the region. Shore fishing is available on all of these reservoirs and the larger lakes offer excellent loch-style boat fishing.

More recently the growth of small-purpose-built trout pools has exploded in the south west and there can be few fly fishers who are now more than a few miles from a trout fishery. All of the usual lake techniques and flies can be used on these lakes but it is worth looking out for those which are clear enough to enjoy the exciting sport of stalking big rainbows with a weighted nymph.


For salmon you will need equipment for both spinning and fly fishing, the latter being particularly important on the Taw and Torridge where fly only is the rule for most of the season. A spinning rod of 9ft and medium power is about right on most rivers, and with a fixed-spool reel and 12lb to 14lb line it will also handle worm or prawn fishing where bait is permitted. In spite of its name, few anglers in the south west now use the Devon minnow, most putting more faith in the Flying C, Mepps or Rapala.

Although the more open stretches on the larger rivers are suitable for a doublehanded salmon fly rod, many anglers stick to a powerful single-handed rod of 9ft or 10ft with lines of AFTM 7 to 9 and this could easily double up as a reservoir rod. For sea trout, however, such a rod might be a bit powerful and a 9ft rod and a 6 line would be more suitable. Popular salmon flies include Willy Gunn, Ally's Shrimp and Blue Charm, while sea trout anglers favour Alexander, Silver Stoat and Mallard and Claret.

Trout fly rods are as varied as the West Country rivers. On a small overgrown river where the branches meet over the middle of the stream, a 7ft fly rod and 4 line are ideal, but when you are fishing from the bank on a larger chalk stream a rod of 8+ft or even 9ft with a 5 line will help you to keep control when reaching over bankside vegetation. If you have to compromise with one outfit, try an 8ft rod and 5 line.

Bank fishing on the larger reservoirs will demand a powerful rod of 9ft and an 8 line, but on the smaller pools I often stalk big trout with an 8ft river rod and a 5 line, so there is no easy compromise if you wish to fish all the stillwater options in the south west - even before you consider the specialist needs of loch style fishing from a boat.

Any of the vast range of popular trout flies is worth a try, but on the rivers it is always worth remembering that patterns created long ago in the West Country, like Blue Upright, Pheasant Tail, Half Stone, Tup's Indispensable, Infallible and Devonshire Doctor, still perform very effectively.


Whatever your taste in game fishing there is something for you in the south west - just check the list of places to fish in this guide. The visitor will find a wide range of day permits from hotels, associations and fishery owners, at an equally wide range of prices. The local angler should always consider joining an association, which is often the cheapest way of fishing, especially for salmon. Some of these clubs have open membership while others will have a membership limit and a waiting list, so check with the secretaries for details. But always remember that before you go fishing you need two pieces of paper - the Environment Agency national licence and a permit from the owner of the fishery.