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”. They were almost always far too sloppy, making it impossible to cast the tight loop that is essential in a confined space. What you want is a rod of no more that seven feet with a stiffish action that will punch a narrow loop under the canopy of leafy branches that spans so many of these little rivers. Leaders should also be kept fairly short - I normally use four or five feet of braided butt attached to a couple of feet of 5X nylon and finally a point of three feet of 6X or 7X. The secret weapon on many small streams with heavily bushed banks is body waders, without which much of the water will be unavailable, and a wading staff can avoid those stumbles that can send the trout heading for cover.Throughout the south west there are countless opportunities for getting a day’s fishing on these tiny trout streams and usually at a modest cost - as reference to the directory section of this guide will readily demonstrate. And there are many more waters where the farmer will often let you cast a fly for a nominal charge. So let’s go to the river and look at some of the tiny trout streams that have given me some great days in recent seasons.
Two of the most reliable little trout streams that I know are the Yeo and Creedy at Crediton, and that is where I start the season year after year. When the water is still cold and the fish a bit lethargic it is best to stick to the waters that you know well - exploring new waters is best left until things start hotting up in late May. The water here is controlled by the Crediton Fly Fishing Club and can fish well at any time in the season, with plenty of wild trout up to around 14 inches.
Around mid May in 2002 I went exploring new waters, particularly on the upper Torridge and its tributaries, where several stretches are available through the Angling 2000 scheme operated by the West Country Rivers Trust. With the black gnats swarming over the streams I found plenty of free-rising wild trout on the Torridge at Woodford Bridge, the Walden at Henscott and the Lew at Rutleigh.
Early last season I came upon a little gem in the shape of the Little Dart at Witheridge, where a lengthy stretch of this Taw tributary can be fished with an Angling 2000 permit. It was a dull afternoon in early June, which looked far from promising, but as soon as I slipped into the water I realised that there was a steady hatch of blue winged olives and that the trout were rising steadily. Over the next two hours I waded upstream for over half-a-mile with rising fish always within casting range and my reward was over 30 wild browns up to just short of 12 inches.
In the border country between Devon and Cornwall, the Arundell Arms at Lifton offers around twenty miles of trout stream for the fly fisherman to explore. Although this fishery includes the Tamar and Lyd, it is to the tiny tributaries that I turn for the most enjoyable trout fishing. The most westerly and easterly of the hotel’s beats - on the Ottery and Lew respectively - are two of my favourites, especially in late May or early June when the Mayflies are hatching. Both of these prolific little rivers can produce big catches in such conditions.
When I first came to the south west over 30 years ago, it was to the tumbling streams of Dartmoor and Exmoor that I turned for wild trout fishing and the three rivers that have provided many great days over the years are the upper Dart and its tributaries, the upper Teign and the East Lyn. Although the East Lyn produced some good fishing in 2002, the Dartmoor rivers were distinctly below par, so I shall be hoping for a return to form by these streams in 2003.
My 2002 season ended with a couple of wonderful days in October on the Piddle, a delightful little chalk stream in Dorset. As closing day approached, many fly fishermen had put away their rods, so I had the Piddle beats operated by Richard Slocock of Wesex Fly Fishing virtually to myself. It was classic autumn weather with a clear sky, warm but not too hot and, best of all, not a breath of wind. I was fishing at Culeaze and the mile or so downstream and, although there was no great hatch of fly, the trout were high in the water looking out for the few duns that trickled down on the surface. There can be few moments more exciting than when you wade round a bend on a tiny chalk stream to find a trout of 17 or 18 inches steadily sipping in insects - except possibly the moment when it takes your fly and heads for cover. Those two days produced that experience on several occasions, as well as plenty of smaller trout, bringing the 2002 season to splendid climax.
For the exploring fly fisherman in search of wild trout there always seems to be another stream around the corner. As I completed this article, I heard from the Westcountry Rivers Trust that they had added fishing on two little rivers in West Cornwall to their Angling 2000 collection, so as soon as the 2003 season gets going I shall be heading west in search of new experiences with wild trout.