An assassin's mind needed to catch little brown trout

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The Independent Online

The plym is a deceptive little river. It starts 450 metres above sea level, high on Dartmoor in south-west England. Thirty kilometres later it enters the sea at Plymouth Sound, near the ugly old city of Plymouth (sorry Plymothians).

The plym is a deceptive little river. It starts 450 metres above sea level, high on Dartmoor in south-west England. Thirty kilometres later it enters the sea at Plymouth Sound, near the ugly old city of Plymouth (sorry Plymothians).

Just below Cadover Bridge, the Plym is a flat, bouldery stream of a river surrounded by thick, velvety grass that wouldn't look out of place on a golf-green. Sheep graze on either side. It's the type of rural scene that silly Londoners think typify the countryside. I'd read that, after heavy rainfall the Plym could be treacherous, that sudden "rushes of water eight foot high" could come at you. Surely not?

But the Plym, like a woman with PMT harbouring a grudge, can change dramatically. Just downstream from Cadover Bridge, the Plym disappears into woodland. Not long after it plummets into a gorge of terrifying gradient. It's not a sight many see. At such channels, and after heavy rainfall, the speed and volume of the Plym is awesome.

It was raining heavily when I decided to go fishing at Cadover Bridge. I felt the river was wide enough here, and I could see far enough along it, that I would be safe. The bank is about two feet above the water so one has to sit on the lush green grass and lower oneself on to the gravel edge of the river. The grass really was like carpet. There were about three fishy spots and I cast my little parachute black gnat (what else?). Because of the rain there were no picnickers so I had the place all to myself.

A Dartmoor brownie snapped at my fly. I struck. Missed. Excellent: nothing like a bite to keep the soggy misery at bay. My hood dripped rain on to my cap which channelled all the water on to my head. I cast again: there were two spots where I could just tell there were fish. A little, cheeky splash. Strike, miss. Do we sense a pattern?

My father was in the car because we didn't have enough waterproofs to go round. My boyfriend joined me. "These fish are so quick," I gasped, water dripping into my mouth as I spoke. I know Dartmoor brownies well: small, fierce, utterly wild and often impossible to catch. They command respect.

I waded in a little. I had maybe 20 to 30 bites. Who knows. I started to lose count. I missed them all. My boyfriend had a go. I insisted because I could tell he thought I was just being a bit slow. He raised a few fish and missed them all, too. My father joined us. I was rabid with determination.

I took a breather. I wanted to see just one fish. Just one. I cast, a bite, I struck. This time with such speed and precision and intent that a little brownie, a tiny brown trout, flew out of the water and landed on the bank before unhooking himself and flipping back in. I'd almost knocked him out.

I decided to move. Further downstream the water started to get more serious. The river had started to narrow with intent, the boulders were bigger; planed to a glossiness only very mean water can achieve. I scanned the water like an assassin.

"I don't think there are any fish there," my boyfriend helpfully proffered. But I was so wet I was almost at one with the river. "There are," I mouthed.

I cast to a quiet spot in among the rushing. This time the "plop" was quieter, less snappy, more confident. A bigger fish than before and too wily for me. The river had risen by about a foot since I had been there and the air was wet with rain. I looked up, all the sheep had gone. There were no birds flying overhead. Time, I thought, to head home to the safety of a cream tea.

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