Fishing: Dartmoor daze with brainy brownies

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GOD, I love Dartmoor. It's difficult, you can't take it for granted and it can change in a moment from a place of gobsmacking beauty to one of brooding menace. Obviously, then, it is female. Every year, at least once, I come here to breathe pure air and gaze upon her wild, abandoned magnificence.

Dartmoor brownies are also magnificent. Small, shaped like torpedoes and as wild as they come. Last year I fished the West Dart with the man who is a mountain goat, Brian Easterbrook, and had me a very tough, but exhilarating time. This time I took things a bit easier.

First there was a quick fish on the Walkham, a tributary of the Tavy. The Walkham rises just north-west of Princetown (where HMP Dartmoor is) and joins the Tavy below Tavistock, the place where I always, always buy my fishing pasties (on the high street, the Home Made Cake Shop - cheese and onion is a particularly fine choice).

But the bit of river I was fishing on was way too fast and difficult to be fun. Each cast was fished out in seconds. So I gave up to fish-spot from the bridge for my fishing partner. There was a very nice specimen deep down and where fish often lie: behind a large rock (they like the shelter and are not in the full face of the current). But he had not grown big by being stupid and had, in the instinctive way that fish do, put himself in a place that was impossible to reach. Cast upon cast failed to reach him. So my fishing buddy crossed the bridge, snuck down to within two feet of the fish, cast out a nymph and I saw the brownie instantly dive deeper and wedge himself between two rocks.

It is fascinating observing fish from above like this. The trout stayed in his safe place refusing to budge for a good 20 minutes, and then coming out cautiously, by degrees. We decided to leave him be.

The next day, in order to catch dinner, a group of us headed to Tavistock Fishery where last year I caught a lovely 4lb rainbow trout. There are four lakes holding fish of various sizes but I always stick to the smaller ones as I hate unnaturally fat fish. The day started scorchingly hot, but by tea time my shorts (let me tell you that Gap do some multi-pocket mens' shorts that are perfect for holding fly boxes) and vest were barely holding off hypothermia.

It was a miserable day and, despite all my best tactics, I did not get a nibble. So I retired hurt to the pasty shop whilst superfisherman Pete fished on until six and did indeed bring home the bacon: two fine rainbows which he also cooked for everyone and served with roasted new potatoes tossed in olive oil and garlic. Rather yum.

But my favourite day's fishing was on the Meavy, a tributary of the River Plym. Here I fished for many happy hours raising dozens of tiny brown trout on a Hare's Ear dry fly but missing most of them. They are spectacularly fast. I managed to get not one to my wading feet as, even when I managed to hook them, I screwed up by getting the tension wrong on my line and losing them due to too much slack. Still, I'm always happy for a fish to get one over on me.

At one point, on the other side of the bank a dragonfly came to keep me company and dib-dabbed her abdomen in the water, depositing her eggs, for the best part of half an hour. Scattered around me were hundreds of sheep lazily soaking up the sun. And the sun was shining, and I spotted a kingfisher and the trees were draped with lichen...

Around Dartmoor you can fish these beautiful rivers for a couple of pounds a day. I bought a ticket for the Tavy, Walkham and Plym (partly controlled by the TWP Fishing Club) from the petrol station in Yelverton. For trout it costs only pounds 20 a month, pounds 15 for a week or pounds 5 a day. You can get information on who controls other rivers from just about any shop you go into.

Just before I left for London, news reached me from the Half Moon Inn in Sheepwash that a good run of sea trout and even a few salmon were being caught from the Torridge. We went along to have a look and sneaked into the rod room where, in a glass topped cabinet, there lay two glorious freshly caught sea trout tagged with the name of their lucky captor "Simon". I didn't have time to fish for them, but next year the name on them could be mine.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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