Call of wild Dartmoor brownie beckons the best back to the Meavy

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The Independent Online

It was one of those impromptu afternoons we can only dream about in the centre of London; a couple of hours to kill and fishing a 10 minute drive away.

It was one of those impromptu afternoons we can only dream about in the centre of London; a couple of hours to kill and fishing a 10 minute drive away.

As we also knew exactly the spot we were going to fish we could also bring minimal equipment with us; no need for all that just-in-case stuff, or picnics the size of going-to-boarding-school trunks.

We headed to a lovely little stretch on the Meavy, where I had, some summers ago, raised dozens of wild brown trout only to miss each one of their nips. I'd left the water fizzy with frustration and with several fingers numb due to horse fly bites. It's also a beat in which we sometimes, tantalisingly, see sea-trout, but hold no hope of ever catching them.

The end of the beat is marked by a bridge and the really big (relatively speaking) brownies lie just the other side of it, where you can't fish and even the most expert cast can't reach them. So fishing this beat calls for patience, and an acceptance of nature that can test beginners. We walked through a field full of lilac Mare's Tail, which made everything look pretty. The horses in the next field galloped as close to us as their electric fence would let them.

As the beat is small it's not suitable for two people to fish it at once so my boyfriend and I fished in turns, side by side, which I think is really romantic.

It may be a small river, but there is plenty to test you. The fish rise, safe under branches that are almost impossible to cast under and there has been no cutting trees to make life easier. We waded, gently, through the middle to a fairly wide stretch of water in which we could see fish rising.

"I've never raised a fish here," said my boyfriend.

"Go on, though," I urged, never one for biding by the laws of probability.

He did a few times and hooked the most magnificent baby trout which I unhooked for him. It'd been ages since I'd seen a proper wild fish and it was so beautiful that I shuddered to look upon him.

"I'd rather catch one of those than 100 overgrown fish any day," said my boyfriend, and I nodded in agreement.

Before coming to Devon, my boyfriend had asked me if I'd wanted to go sea-bass fishing again like last year - an experience which had proved exhilarating but utterly exhausting.

At the time, with just the very beginnings of a belly, I'd thought it'd be no problem being six months pregnant and walking out across sinking sands to greet the coming tide and fishing my way back, wading as deep as I'd dare in the sea. Ha! I hadn't accounted for my shifting sense of gravity which now made even just scrambling up or down rocky terrain for a short distance a feat of concentration, deep breathing and prayer.

This bit of the Meavy is home to a kingfisher. I hadn't realised that even some bird-watchers have never seen a kingfisher because as a fisherman, especially one who is want to just sit still and contemplate the water, I had seen one at least twice; which makes me very fortunate as these birds are fast and shy.

As we made our way up to the bridge and the car to fish another river, we stood and stared down river for a moment. The water breaking over the rocks lulled me into a stupor, so much so that when my boyfriend said, "The kingfisher, look!" I was too slow to see it swoop up river, under the bridge, and beyond.

We then drove to the Walkham and walked through woodland to a particularly secluded bit of water, a process that involved lots of navigating of terrain that would have caused me no problem a few months ago, but now I had to pigeon step it along certain steep bits, a process that made me sulk a little in frustration. We reached an open, gravely bend in the river and I sat on a tree-trunk and looked at the water.

There wasn't much happening, and the air was cool as it was now early evening. It was my turn to fish so I cast my dry fly out under a branch, just as the water curved round. Within a few casts another lovely Dartmoor brownie took the fly. He got off so I never got to see him, but I know that he'd have been small but perfectly formed and just as wild as can be.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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