Early Season Browns On A Dartmoor River
Snowbee’s Simon Kidd relives a spring session on the upper River Teign where a huge river brown made his 2017 season…
Beneath the imposing Drogo Castle, flows the tranquil valley of the River Teign. The colour of rich ‘milk free’ tea from the peat and iron rich moorland from which it springs, the river is home to some great brown trout fishing, plus some sea trout and salmon when the conditions are right.
A few miles down the river lies the idyllic setting of Fingle Bridge but on this occasion I was keen to take an early season venture above the imposing Drogo Weir and pool in search of some truly wild browns in the upper reaches. The fishing is run well by the Upper Teign Fishing Association who have stocked the river in sections below the weir in recent years.
I called into the Mill End Hotel to purchase my day ticket. At just £12.50/day for a brown trout only ticket, with miles of clean river to fish, and throughout the summer months plenty of free rising browns, this has been a favourite place of mine since I was at primary school nearby. My headmaster George Austin used to encourage me to go whenever I could. He made rods and tied flies in his spare time, and aside from my dad of course, made a significant impact on my early life as fly angler.
On this spring day it was mid-morning by the time I had set up but there was no hurry as there was still a cold breeze blowing up the river. The sun had warmed the air enough for a few flies to be on the wing. The river was typically swollen but very fishable, the rooks were calling in the hotel garden Rookery and chaffinches, song thrushes and blackbirds were singing their enchanting spring chorus throughout the valley from their favourite limbs. However it was still too early yet for spring visitors like the willow warbler and chiffchaff.
I chose to explore the top few fields, where there are some nice pools and runs but access is a bit limited. Stretches of the riverbed here are of bed rock or quite sandy. The best areas have a bit of everything with some weed and moss growth on rocks to help harbour a food supply and give cover.
Concentration was high. Rusty from the winter, I missed the first two takes.
Tackling Up For The Teign
Wagtails were busy at the margins as I set up my favourite Prestige 9ft 6in, 3-wt with a dry fly set up and a single CDC Olive Emerger pattern. My second rod was my 10ft, 4-wt Prestige, which I set up with two nymphs; a beaded shellback caddis pattern on the dropper and a Peeping Caddis with a burnt white butt on the point. This set-up can work so well on this river early season and tied Polyphitus/Jig style, saves potential time lost extracting flies from snags on the bottom, with the hook point sitting up on this style of fly.
Although I was itching to cast it, I left the dry fly set up until I saw something to cast at. I started with the nymphs and worked through the first few pools as I set off downstream. Approaching each pool from below, making a wide arc in the field between each one, I worked my way down the meadow. Making sure not to spook any fish as I passed them I cast upstream and across in typical upstream double-nymphing style. I used the orange beach indicator to stand out and signify any action or stop in the flow as anything connected. Concentration was high. Rusty from the winter, I missed the first two takes. Probably small fish anyway and there was disappointingly very little action.
The Prime Spot
I moved on to one of my favourite pools where fish would tend to lie close to the bank on the far side and in the deeper middle at the top of the pool, the better fish held typically in prime station. I decided to make an inspired fly change and went down a size on the point fly, putting on my universal nymph pattern. Not a jig style this one but smaller and with a silvered ‘tungsten’ bead.
The first couple of casts were barren as I worked my way up to the prime spot concentrating on the deeper sections. As I reached the mid sector of the pool I contacted with my first fish of the day to the newly changed point fly. Not a big fish but a good eight inches, which kicked and scrapped all the way to the net. I slipped the fish quietly back, it headed off downstream, and I carried on. I worked every single crease and slack in the pool and then reached my favourite spot. The indicator stopped and I lifted sharply into it. Fish or weed? Fish!! I felt it kick and then go solid before the water absolutely erupted and the trout leaped out of the water in front of me. I’m not sure who was more in shock at the change of their day, the fish or me! I assumed I’d bumped into a sea trout at first. I’d never hooked a trout of this size in this river and it was doing everything to leap and then dive into the deep roots of the far bank and lose me. Side strain and more side strain, as it continued to try and defy the firm, but barbless hook hold. Finally, it succumbed and I gathered it upstream into the net. Over 40 years I’d fished this river and never before hooked a more wild and angry brown of this size.
Forty Centimetre Fish
At nearly 40 cm in length it dwarfed the average fish in the system; it was dark with lovely white fin edges and perfect in form. A memorable fish and for me I was happy to go home at this point. I was beaming and the smile said it all. I have caught plenty of bigger fish but nothing so perfect on any part of the Teign and especially so far up river and so close to the moor.
After a safe return I sat and contemplated a while, before getting up and carrying on downstream. The sun was shining bright by now and the occasional fish were rising, some smutting and the odd one splashing at olives, but not really taking them. I persevered and sought cover wherever I could in the dappled light. I moved with stealth to approach fish showing near the banks. Most were small fish but after my earlier success I really didn’t mind. I fished the dries only. I went down to .08 diameter before I started to catch in the flat water. A combination of ripple from any movements I made, and the subtle micro-drag in the many creases which I fight to eliminate, made for great entertainment and a real fishing challenge.
Only small fish came to the net nothing like what I had caught earlier. Several of them par as it turned out. A small black F-Fly now proved the best. The fish tended to splash at my dry without taking it properly, even the odd better fish did this, like they weren’t sure what they were doing or they were out of practice! I did put on, and caught a couple, on a small spider I added as a dropper to help sink the leader as much as anything and slow down the skated drag on occasion.
A superb spring day in an idyllic setting. Yes you get few people about on good weather days and the odd dog for company but the place is like home for me and brings back many childhood memories, but this day will take some beating!
Simon Kidd is the Sales and Marketing Manager for Snowbee (UK) Ltd. He has fished since he was eight cutting his teeth on the diverse west country rivers and lakes before moving to fish the midlands reservoirs and many destinations abroad. Whilst he loves pleasure fishing he has always been very competitive too being the National Rivers Champion (England) and Aurefisk Champion (Norway); fishing in six World Championships, with silver medals in European and Commonwealth events. Simon is a thinking angler and innovative fly tyer and enjoys presenting a self-tied fly to catch a rising trout on the river.