Fishing for wild brown trout on the West Country rivers.

Colin Pape's product recommendations are listed at the end of this article.

Mention of the Torridge, the Taw, the Dart and the Exe will quicken the pace of any salmon fisherman’s heart but few appreciate that these and other less fashionable rivers such as the Upper Teign, the Otter, the Yeo, the Culm, the Creedy, the Bray and the Barle are music to the ears of keen exponents of the sport of fly fishing for the hard fighting wild brown trout of West Country rivers.

Mere mention of these famous trout and sea trout rivers strikes a cord in the hearts of fishermen who have experienced the special challenge afforded by these rivers. Not for them the fat stocked brownies lined up like buses so often experienced these days in many rivers in other parts of the country.

Fishing these West Country rivers calls for the tactics and stealth of the hunter. Casts have to be delicate and spot on first time or these wild and wary fish are spooked. It can be very frustrating at first. You may wonder what you are doing wrong as you miss take after take, or you spook all the fish in a pool as you enter the water like a buffalo, but once you catch your first one you are literally hooked!

Most of my guiding is spent helping my clients to fish these rivers for the first time. I tell them not to expect too much to begin with. Success does not come easily. You have to work for your success. Freestone rivers like the Upper Teign, which tumbles down a deep wooded gorge from Drogo Pool below Drogo Castle, near Drewsteignton, to Upperton Pool some 5 miles further downstream, are the very stuff of early springtime nymphing or a summer evening’s dry fly fishing for 8-9” wild brownies. Many will be smaller than that, but they take with the speed of lightning. The fisherman’s reactions have to be fast. Concentration and stealth, combined with delicate and accurate casts, are key.

You have to wade these Dartmoor and Exmoor spate rivers as so often the banks are steep and wooded. Their beds are for the most part rocky and boulder strewn. Wading staffs are essential if you do not know the rivers well, especially in the spring when the water can be high and the current strong. Lower down on the Yeo near Crediton, on the Torridge in West Devon, on the Otter in East Devon near Honiton and Ottery St Mary, and on the lower Exe around Bramford Speke near Exeter, the rivers are more leisurely. Their beds are more forgiving, natural flies are more abundant and the fishing is more leisurely and relaxing. Here the natural West Country brownie is a little easier to tempt, but never a pushover.

Equipment has to be light and stripped down to the bare essentials. You may cover a mile or two of water in a day’s fishing. This is not the place for those who carry everything for every eventuality, hung about with all those ‘dangly’ bits like dummies dressed in an angling shop window! Here a light weight 8 ft for 4 weight rod will suffice with a small wooden Clearwater net slung from the back of the wading jacket. Stocking foot waders with lightweight Henry’s Fork wading boots are essential. A wading staff is recommended for the inexperienced or older angler. I normally wear a small Safe Passage chest and day pack, with two front pouches, or a lightweight Battenkill Pro Guide mesh vest. A selection of size 16-20 dry flies in one box and a selection similar sized nymphs and emergers in another is all that is needed. My own ‘West Country Rivers’ selection of flies is all you will need for a season on these rivers. A bottle of Frogs Fanny and Shake-N-Float for dry flies, some strike indicators for nymphing, a tin of Orvis sink putty, a small pair of forceps, a de-barbing tool and a selection of 7x and 6x Super Strong Leaders and Tippet spools is all that is required.

If my clients do not have a suitable rod and line for these rivers I tend to use the Clearwater 795 (7’9” 5 wt) with a WF4 wt line for my novices and the less experienced, and either the TLS Power Matrix 704 (7’ for 4wt) or the TLS Power Matrix 7114 (7’ 11” for 4 wt) with a DT4 wt line for my more experienced clients.

Come and enjoy the challenge of these West Country rivers. Come and test your skills against the hard fighting wild brownies of the Upper Teign, the Barle, the Yeo or the Torridge. There you will find beautiful pools, fast running riffles and pocket water where a precisely placed size 18 Adams will reward skill, or perhaps a size 18 Bead Head Hares Ear nymph fished ‘across & down’ or ‘down & across’ in the early spring. Go on go for it – get away from those fat stockies and try some real fly fishing!

Colin Pape, Orvis Endorsed Guide

Guiding: Rivers Exe, Taw, Teign, Torridge and Yeo in Devon; Exmoor Rivers in West Somerset

Tel: 01626-891897


 Colin Pape's Product Recommendations:

Henry’s Fork II Premium Wading Shoe

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