From the tumbling rivers of the high moors to the silky chalk streams of Wessex, the South West has something for just about every fly fisher who likes to go in search of brown trout in running water. You can drift a tiny dry fly over a rising brownie, work a team of traditional wet flies through a stretch of fast broken water, or explore the depths of a deep pool with a heavily-weighted nymph - the choice is yours. As this Guide clearly demonstrates, plenty of this fishing is available to the visiting angler who buys a permit from an association, hotel or fishery owner, but making the right choice is the key to success. So let's take a look at a selection of trout fisheries that regularly produce good fishing for anyone prepared to take the time to learn their secrets. These are in no particular order, whether geographical or in terms of quality, but all have given me wonderful days of sport with the fly over the years - though like any other waters they can all have their off days.
From Brendon to Lynmouth, the East Lyn tumbles down to the sea through a spectacular wooded valley and is full of colourful free-rising brownies on the Glenthorne and Watersmeet fisheries. On a sunny day in late spring or early summer, the sheer number of trout that you will see holding in the current waiting for food to drift to them can be a revelation. This is the time to work carefully upstream casting a dry fly into every likely spot or, on the smoother stretches, to the fish you can see feeding. Few moorland streams give you more opportunities to spot the trout but remember that if you can see the fish they can see you, so a careful approach is often called for.
Permits: Environment Agency.
Many miles of this lovely West Dorset chalk stream from Maiden Newton down to below Dorchester can be fished on a day permit from Wessex Fly Fishing or the Dorchester Fishing Club. At Maiden Newton the trout are mainly wild but even downstream where stocking is carried out there are plenty of wild fish. I have enjoyed excellent trout fishing on the Frome right through the season but every year I set aside a day or two in October, when the trout season in Devon is but a memory and the trout on the Frome can produce some of the best sport of the year. There is often a resurgence of fly hatches, particularly the blue-winged olives and the pale wateries, and the trout enjoy some easy pickings before the onset of winter. Some of the best fishing is above and below Muckleford Bridge, which every year produces some really good trout at Mayfly time. For the grayling fisher, the Frome below Dorchester has some of the biggest grayling I have encountered. If you have never caught a two pounder, this is the place to fish, but visitors' permits are restricted to the trout season.
Permits: Wessex Fly Fishing and Dorchester Fishing Club.
Good fishing can often come in modest packaging. These two unassuming little streams meander through the meadows around Crediton before coming together just below the town, from where the Creedy flows a few more miles before joining the Exe at Exeter. The Crediton Fly Fishing Club controls about five miles of river with the best of the fishing on the bottom two miles of the Yeo, though on its day the Creedy produces plenty of trout. The trout rarely exceed 14 inches but the average size is good with lots of 10 to 12 inch browns and on the right day you can expect to take over 20 fish. The most consistent results come from the dry fly and even when little is rising it is usually possible to bring plenty of fish to the surface with a pattern like a Klinkhamer. Both rivers have a fair hatch of Mayfly, which regularly produces some of the best trout of the season, but these are rivers where you can expect to take fish at virtually any time in the season.
Permits: Crediton Fly Fishing Club.
For many years anglers have been coming to the Half Moon Hotel at Sheepwash for its trout fishing on the Torridge. Although this hotel has salmon, sea trout and brown trout fishing at various points throughout the river, it is on the stretch around Sheepwash where most of the fly fishing for brown trout is done and it is here that I have enjoyed many productive days. Such a day was in early June last year when the Mayfly hatch was virtually over but the trout were eager to take the few that still hatched. There was probably no more than one rising trout in every fifty yards but providing I carefully marked the rise the fish was still there when I got within range and took at the first cast almost every time. It was hard work but, as most of the trout were a pound or better, it was worth the effort.
Permits: Half Moon Hotel.
The Barle is a classic little moorland river packed with wild brown trout. It is always a fast flowing river, at first on the heights of Exmoor and then in a deep wooded valley before it joins the Exe near Dulverton.
My favourite stretch is at Tarr Steps where the hotel has over three miles of fishing above and below the famous clapper bridge. A day at Tarr Steps in late spring when the leaves are still fresh on the trees is rather special - and good for fishing too. At that time I have enjoyed great sport as the black gnats have swarmed over the river and the trout have risen all day. In the holiday season there can be lots of tourists around the bridge and on the footpaths upstream, and then it pays to fish in the meadow below the bridge where there is no public access.
Permits: Tarr Steps Hotel.
The Tamar itself has plenty of trout but it is the more intimate fishing on its numerous tributaries that really attracts me and fortunately many miles of this fishing is available to the visitor through the Arundell Arms. Although most of the fishing is on the Devon tributaries, one of the best is the Ottery in Cornwall. The hotel has five beats on the middle reaches of this stream and I have enjoyed good fishing on every one of them. This stream can also produce its surprises, as was the case on one spring day when I caught only one trout but 14 grayling came to the net. On the Devon side, you have the Carey, Lyd, Wolf, Lew and Thrushel to choose from. The tiny River Lew can be remarkably productive on its day, but it is the Thrushel that provides my most abiding memory of a day in early June some 15 years ago. The Mayfly hatch was coming to an end but the trout still had a taste for the big insects and were in suicidal mood. For four hours as I fished up from the stream’s junction with the Wolf to Hayne Bridge a trout came to virtually every cast and over 80 fish were caught and released.
Permits: Arundell Arms Hotel.
I have lived near the upper Teign for over 20 years and after countless hours wading its rocky waters in search of wild trout, there always seems to be something new to experience in the deep wooded valley around Fingle Bridge. The trout rarely exceed a pound but they are wild and hard fighting - and the clear waters mean that you always have to approach them with the greatest care, especially if you wish to catch the better fish. If I had to select the ideal session on this river, I would park the car at Fingle Bridge on a late May day and fish upstream with a dry fly for about a mile. With any luck, the black gnats would still be swarming and, better still, the first of the green caterpillars might be exciting the trout. If nothing was showing, I would use the black gnat on the quicker water and reserve the caterpillar for the smoother stretches, but this is the time of the season when the trout are most likely to feed at the surface so I would be looking for plenty of rising fish to cast to.
Permits: Upper Teign Fishing Association.
When I came to live in Devon, the Duchy of Cornwall fishery on Dartmoor was the first place that I fished and it remains a great favourite. Here the fly fisher can find mile after mile of varied water to explore, from the big pools of the lower West Dart to a tiny stream like the Cowsic. On these moorland streams the average size of the trout is modest, but don't be lulled into carelessness. Most anglers with any lengthy experience of the Duchy fishery, especially the West Dart, will probably recall taking a string of brownies with nothing over half a pound and suddenly being into a trout of two to three pounds. Sadly such experience can end in disaster so always be prepared.
Even on more normal days, experienced anglers can achieve a very respectable average with plenty of eight to twelve inch trout. Although the bigger waters of the West Dart have an obvious attraction, never ignore the tiny higher reaches. The top of the East Dart way above Postbridge and the West Dart headwaters above Wistman's Wood can produce real surprises.
Permits: Duchy of Cornwall.
This selection of trout fishing on the rivers of the south west could easily have included fisheries on the Taw, Exe, Otter, Piddle, Wylye, Avon and many others which you can find in the Directory section of this Guide. The Directory will also tell you where to get permits for the fisheries described in this article.