So, the trout season has reopened and spring is here. Maybe you're feeling a bit out of shape and want to blow some cobwebs away? I have just the thing. Get fit with fishing. No, it's not my new video (although....) it's a suggestion. Really loyal readers (and I know you're out there) may remember that four summers ago I went fishing with my "man on the moor", Brian Easterbrook of Dartmoor (I'm sure he gets mail addressed to him, just like that). It was the hardest fishing I'd ever done but I had one of the best days ever.
Last year, back for my annual fling with Dartmoor, I spotted an impossibly tall man in the Yelverton Co-op. It was Brian. I had forgotten how tall he was. No wonder he had been able to leap from rock to rock while I had to do that girl thing of sitting, sliding down, and scrambling back up again. The shame's still with me. The moor had been closed most of the year due to pied et bouche. So this man who thinks 10-mile fishing hikes across Dartmoor terrain are "leisurely walks" was, well, fidgety.
But then, if I'd been born on the moor and had spent the last 65 years on it, like Brian has, I'd probably be more gung-ho now (in some respects Brian reminds me of my father, who was born in the hills in northern Italy and despite being 71 is never happier than when he's up a tree).
Brian was taken fishing by his father at so young an age, he doesn't remember. He took to fishing immediately. Once, as a small boy in the 1940s, he was so engrossed in fishing for trout on the moor – he'd caught 40 – that he clean forgot the time and his mother had to call the police out to search for him. After leaving school, and national service in Germany (where yes, he still fished), Brian worked as a lumberjack. But the "fishing always came first" so let's just say he had a high turnover of jobs. Eventually, like his dad before him, Brian ended up as a prison officer at HMP Dartmoor, which is where he stayed for 30 years. Luckily, shift work enabled him to fit the fishing in around his job this time. About five years before retirement, Brian started taking people out fishing. This would vary between taking complete novices out, teaching them to cast, (don't worry, he does tailor the day according to experience) to pretty proficient fisherman who want to try something different and a bit more challenging.
If you're in the latter category then you're in for a real treat. There are no manicured lawns along Dartmoor's rivers, no specially cut paths for fishermen. On Dartmoor, you work around the landscape, not the other way around. "If someone's been sat in an office all day," says Brian, "I wouldn't take him up the West Dart like I did with you, it'd be too hard for them." Pete, who came with me that day four years ago, likened it to "wading on dry land". The ground is fiercesomely undulating, you often have to scramble over rocks and cross rivers. Believe me, it focuses the mind. It's also enormous fun.
Brian's only killed someone once. A mature gentleman had a heart attack while out fishing with Brian on the moor. The man's wife said it's how he would have wanted to go and she has a point. I certainly wouldn't mind popping off among all that savage beauty. Just, not yet.
"There was this one man once," says Brian in the sort of lovely West Country accent that could clot cream it's so swirly. "I took him even further up the moor than where we went, and he was keeping right up with me. So I asked him what he did, and he was in the special forces, in the army!"
The technique Brian uses to fish the Dartmoor rivers is to use a long – 10ft – soft action rod, well away from the river, with a team of flies of his own designs that he's evolved for the Dartmoor brownie over the years. "It's rivercraft, a lot of people would use a short rod, but I like to stand well back and not be seen." Forty years ago he caught a four and a half pound trout, which is very big for these here parts. And just three years ago he caught a 3.9lb wild brownie, which is a relative monster. If you'd like to go fishing with Brian, limber up and ring him on 01822 890488.
Now then, a gentle reminder that rod licences run out at the end of the month. You can renew at any post office or, for an extra 25 pence, you can get a full coarse and non-migratory trout licence, £21 or a junior one, £5 by calling: 0870 1662 662 or online http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/ (then select the fish-e-page.Reuse content