The East & West Dart 30-31 July 2016

I had not had the chance to get out with my old mucker Graham Lumsdon since our trip to Slovenia. So I gave him a call and asked if he fancied a short trip down to his old stomping grounds on Dartmoor. Graham knows the system intimately after spending some considerable time practicing for national competitions as well as pegging the Commonwealth Championships there in 2014. It’ll be great I said, it will have had very little pressure and we will catch a hat full of fish!

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So after a quick tea at mine we set of about 1945hrs, the Sat Nav had us getting to our digs at 2245hrs. Just in time for last orders bonus, the roads seemed quite and we were making good progress. Right up to the point when we came to a complete stop on the M3 just before Basingstoke, about a quarter of a mile ahead on the opposite carriage there had been a bad accident and the police had shut the motorway to allow access for the air ambulance. We were only held up for an hour or so though and we were back on the road and bombing it down to the West country. Finally arrived at the Prince of Wales pub in Princetown just at the back of midnight. Graham had kindly brought a bottle 12-year-old Bunnahabhain and after a night cap it was straight to bed. We had booked into the bunk house which although a bit Spartan it had a bed, toilet, shower and it boasts a little lounge area upstairs with fridge, kettle and a drying room. The price was right at £15 a night and you can get a very steady breakfast in the pub in the morning.

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After a fine feed and a visit to Postbridge Post office for our tickets we decided to try our hand at the upper reaches of the East Dart. In years gone by this has produced big numbers of fish, but this year there was very little water in the river. We were both confident that there would still be some sport to be had though and traipsed up the not so well trodden path to a known mark. Graham opted to start fifty meters below me and I got myself into the tail of a likely looking run. I was rigged to fish straight dry to start but after picking the wrong rod to punch the line out (9’ for #2). Having the whole lot come back at me nearly as fast as I was putting it out I had to stick a little nymph on just to achieve turn over. Sure enough the first cast the little sedge pattern disappeared and as I struck a tiny fish whizzed by my ear and was catapulted down the river behind me. Whoops, I had forgotten how small the fish were here a good fish from this system would be 25-30cm. The next cast or so I managed one to the net but it was no more than 15cm but still a start. I spent the next hour stumbling and crawling on my hands and knees catching only one more fish that was no bigger than the previous one. While I contemplated how utterly crap I was Graham had moved up ahead of me and pointed to a tiny run just above me. I made a half decent cast and a good fish came for the dry I struck and missed, bugger! Graham had not fared much better than me and it looked very like the upper reaches would not fish in this level of water. We decided to cut our losses and wander back down to Postbridge for a bite to eat and a re-think. We eventually opted for the main West Dart at the Swincombe steps area. Even in the low water there would be enough deep channels to hold a few fish.
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The move proved to be a good one for me and even better for Graham. I slowly started to get to grips with the river again. I even managed to catch a few fish over twenty centimetres’. The wading was pretty treacherous though and late into the afternoon my inevitable swimming lesson started. I had just finished fishing a run and was at the head of the pool I had just started to stand up and slipped on my arse. As I tried to sit up the river had me and I found myself floating on my back. Luckily taking girls to swimming lessons every week finally paid off and skulled my way downstream until my fat arse hit land. As I regained my composure I quickly looked round to make sure Graham was not standing by with a camera, as you do! I waddled my way up to where Graham was crouched at the bottom of a run trying to catch some rising fish. It took a little while to empty my waders and wring out my shirt but eventually I was ready to crack on. Graham had built a decent total of fish where I was still in single figures not the best of days so far. We fished on until around 1830hrs but with the long and uphill walk back to car we both decided to wrap it for the day. I had nearly managed ten which amused Graham no end and was to become the catch phrase for the evening!

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On returning to the digs we got scrubbed up and ventured into the pub for one of Terry’s legendary mixed grills. If you have been on the moors all day this is what you want to see on your plate. Now the evening’s entertainment it’s not quite what my wife Jayne thinks, I am sure she thinks we are of clubbing of a night but I can assure you I was barely able to drag my tired arse to dinner. After the meal we enjoyed some re-hydration in the form of Jail Ale. Previous experience has taught me that I am on a two-pint limit with this stuff its lethal! I don’t get to the pub much anymore two young kids, the price of beer I would rather enjoy a nice malt in the house. I do recall however that every pub would have a character you know the one not quite normal. Well the Prince of Wales boasted several of these characters who were highly amusing for the evening. We enjoyed a laugh with the locals but I was beat and another day of hiking saw me to bed by 1030.

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The next day we were up bright and breezy, I wish I was aching all over from the previous days’ exertions. At breakfast the landlord Terry commented on our nice tans and said it was unusual as people usually come to get moss. Still we were going to make the best of it and headed down to the East Dart to fish around the area where the Cherry Brook joins the main river. I was going to take some photos before starting fishing so let Graham crack on when I returned he had made a great start. He was fishing in amongst big boulders and was enticing a few fish to a green bodied caddis fly. With a stiff downstream breeze, I tackled up a 9’ 6” #3 and tied on a duo rig to punch the dry into the wind. We walked downstream past the junction where the Cherry Brook comes in and down to some deeper runs that Graham had confidence that there would be a few fish. On the way we spooked a bird of prey that was on the ground feasting on a rabbit. Eventually we arrived at a sweet looking pool with a lovely run. Graham gave me the honours and I moved up on my knees behind a boulder and began to fish the tail of the pool. Only a couple of casts in and I had a cracking little Brown trout. As I worked my way up the run more fish followed mostly taking the nymph but the last one of the five right in the head off the pool came and smashed the dry.

Graham had moved downstream a bit further and had told me to take the high ground and follow him down. We were now entering water where in the normal scheme of things would be a very deep fast flowing river. As it was there was some lovely looking runs revealed by the low water. I had moved down past Graham and spotted several fish rising in a huge pool and decided to give them a go. It was great fun some fish taking the nymph but many more coming for the dry fly. Graham came to join me as I had moved up the river a little and stuck some wets through the fish but only managed one on and off. As we moved back up the river Graham spooked a nice looking Sea Trout which had tucked itself into the bank in shin deep water. We arrived back up to just below where Graham had fished at the junction of the Cherry Brook and fished up. There was sport to be had but you had to be on your hands and knees and use the cover of the boulders to catch the fish. We had both managed a good few before returning to the car.

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For the last session before returning home we opted to park at Two Bridges and walk downstream to fish back up. The walk down was tough going over some particularly challenging terrain. Eventually though it was worth the walk and we found some runs that made it worthwhile. You’re not going to find big trout in this river unless you luck into a sea trout. But what you will get is some of the prettiest wild fish around, size definitely isn’t everything.

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We had enjoyed a grand couple of days and most importantly managed to catch up and enjoy a good laugh mostly at each other’s expense both of us spending a little time up to our waists in the Dartmoor bog. I had spent some time immersed in the river quite literally but it had all been a blast. I need to start thinking about the boat fishing soon ….but not yet, not yet.