Brown trout on the Tamar system are true wild fish, beautifully coloured and hard-fighting. They breed naturally as they have done for millennia. The size limit is eight inches - a fish of this size will be three years old and fully mature. Any trout over 10 inches is a good fish, with one of a pound (around 14 inches) being exceptional.
The trout respond well to a variety of fly fishing techniques, including the classic across-and-downstream style of wet fly fishing. This method is now unknown to many who have graduated on stocked rivers or stillwaters, and is an excellent way of teaching beginners on the river.
Dry fly is the first choice for the more experienced fisher and, given reasonable water conditions, daily catches of up to 20 or 30 trout can be expected for any competent angler at the right time of the year.
The late Oliver Kite used to open his brown trout season on the Tamar and tributaries, fishing the large dark olive hatches in the opening days of the season in mid-March. This is really too early for reliable fishing, although trout can be caught as long as the rivers are not in spate. Grannom will be on the water in March and April, along with large olives.
The best fly hatches are a little later, starting with black gnats at the end of April and a small but significant mayfly hatch from mid-May. At any time from the start of May onwards, rising fish can be expected on all of the rivers. More olives are about, along with the brightly-coloured yellow may duns which, contrary to some chalk-stream authors, are readily taken by Tamar fish.
Mayfly hatches on the river are far less intense than on the chalkstreams, but these huge flies are eagerly taken, not just by the trout but also the grey wagtails and other riverside birds. Mayflies straggle on through the summer, with some still around in August. From June onwards there will be hatches of sedge, usually starting mid-afternoon, and continuing right through until dark. The long summer evenings also offer excellent dry fly fishing to falls of olive spinners.
A spring trout from the River Thrushel
High summer trout fishing can be demanding if the rivers are very low, but the fish are always there. At such times, stealth and delicate presentation are of the utmost importance. Use long, fine leaders and dress in sensible country colours. Terrestrials start to figure on the menu, so try small beetle patterns, or alternatively fish a nymph. During the dog days of summer, even a small lift in water levels can work wonders for the trout fisher.
The Tamar system's brown trout wake up dramatically in September as the days start to shorten and ambient air and water temperatures settle back to levels which are more comfortable to the fish. There is a final feast of stoneflies, daddy long-legs and sedges on which the fish fatten up prior to spawning. With the exception of May and June, this is prime time for the dry fly angler.