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Devon School of Fly Fishing Team blog

Fly Fishing on Dartmoor

I love to head up on to Dartmoor and fish the many and varied small streams that are found up there. My preference is to head high and fish the smallest pieces of water I can find and to fish the small pockets that are formed between rocks as the stream takes a step down. It never ceases to amaze me that the smallest of these pockets are often home to a trout and sometimes one a little bigger than you might be expecting.

Looking downstream

The typical size of fish is in the 5 to 6 inch range but despite their size they know how to fight dirty and will give you a scrap way beyond their size.

Dartmoor brown trout

I was lucky enough to get up there recently with my good pal Toby. I had recently bought some tying gear from his Funky Fly Tying Range ( and having tied up a few patterns thought it only right that we road tested them before I use them for my guests. There is nothing worse than lavishing time on a fly that you are convinced will work and then, when you tie it on when fishing, it fails to deliver. I think I have written in the blog before that I only have three criteria for my flies. Firstly, they are quick to tie, secondly they work and lastly that if they get hung up in a tree I don’t mourn their loss. I am sure part of this is still down to my “rustic” style of tying though!

Toby had not fished Dartmoor before and despite him being an excellent fisherman I wanted to take him to some of my favourite spots and then the plan was to just keep walking and see what we could find.

The day could not have been more perfect. Warm and overcast and not a hint of wind. It is often the case there is a firm downstream wind when I jump out of the truck but today could not have been more perfect. I’ll often use a 10ft 4wt rod to enable me to keep line off of the water and to almost dap my fly into a likely spot but it was just a fun day. With us not  being motivated by numbers of fish we thought it would be fun to fish lighter lines on short rods and see how we got on.

After a 1/2 hour walk I dropped Toby into a pool and stood back and watched. He expertly dropped his fly into the right spot and a fish liked his fly and Toby was off and running with his first Dartmoor trout. It is always great to be a part of a new landmark for a fisherman and although not a huge one in the grand scheme of things it was still cool to see it happen.

A Dartmoor first for Toby!

I watched for a bit longer and then thought I had better get fishing. I like fishing dry flies up there and had a size 20 klink tied in my scruffy style with loosely dubbed substitute grey seals fur. I don’t carry much by way of flies when I fish up there.  Small and black usually covers the bases.

I unstrung the 3 wt and stepped into a pool. I’d been on the river most days but it had been in a work capacity meaning I hadn’t held a rod to fish with in a little while. I know how fast these fish were and with Toby down stream of me I knew he’d let me know if my strike was a little slow!

I threw a cast into a slightly slower, deeper part of a pool and a fish was on the fly almost immediately. Thankfully my reflexes were up to the job and I was in. It was good to hear a cheer from Toby as he saw me bring the fish in. The great thing about fishing together on such small pools is that you can easily leapfrog each other as long as you stay well back from the pool your buddy is about to fish as these fish are as spooky as they get.

Toby heads up stream

It was really interesting seeing the different way we would both approach a pool. Toby likes to throw a slightly longer line whereas I’ll have a minimal amount out and quickly work a pool. We have spoken about this before and the really neat thing is that both methods work really well. I’m a huge believer that if it works, go for it! We talked about it some more when we had lunch and decided that it was about getting the fly into the right spot. If you did that  the take would be pretty much straight away, so as long as you are primed and set when the fly touches the water you are in business!

The lack of rain meant the water was low and even a well presented fly would be enough to send fish scattering for cover in the slower sections of pools. As the day progressed and there was more by way of hatches then the fish were more confident and our success improved.I concentrated on the slightly faster stretches and seams of pools where I thought the fish would have less time to analyse a fly.

Just a few nice little pools....

We headed for one of my most favourite spots, where the river drops more steeply and there was more pocket water to fish. Toby went to work and picked up a fish and I jumped upstream of him to a spot I liked the look of. It was not a big pool but had a nice deep section with the current running right up against some really big rocks. I flipped my fly in and it was taken straight away. I am not sure who was the more surprised but the the fish certainly reacted more quickly and headed up the pool and in to a crevice where we were parted. Toby had seen what had happened and we both knew it was a good fish but I am from the “better to have loved and lost” school than letting a lost fish get to me.

Toby gets ready for action!

I’m not sure how many fish we had but it didn’t really matter. We’d had a great time and made the long walk back to my truck. The great thing about Dartmoor is the sheer expanse of water to fish. We didn’t see another fisherman and managed to fish miles and miles of water.

It was one of those days you just want to eek the most out of so over a coffee at a service station we decided to hit the Taw for some more trout, have a bite to eat and then hit the river for the off chance of some sea trout. We threw in the towel at midnight and had covered plenty of miles and caught plenty of fish. Did we get lucky with the sea trout?That will keep for another story!

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