Fly Fishing Devon: Instruction & Guiding on Dartmoor & South Devon Rivers

  • Welcome to Fly Fishing Devon run by Geoff Stephens and Paul Kenyon

  • We are qualified fly fishing instructors and Snowbee registered fishing guides

  • This website explains how we can help beginners and experienced anglers enjoy the wonderful fly fishing available on Dartmoor and South Devon rivers

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  • Learning how to cast a fly can be difficult because you can’t watch yourself while you cast to see what you’re doing right or doing wrong.
  • The best solution is to spend a few hours with a qualified game angling instructor.
  • We recommend beginners take their first lesson on a stocked stillwater that gives you an opportunity to catch a fish on a fly.
  • We provide suitable rods, reels, lines, flies and explain how to select appropriate tackle for different types of fishing
  • We will teach you how to perform roll and overhead casts and shoot line to achieve distance.
  • We can also teach you how to single and double haul to deal with awkward winds and cope with those “just out of reach” fish.
  • We will introduce you to some of the bugs that make up a trout’s diet. And how to select a fly to “match the hatch”.
  • Hopefully you will then catch a fish so that we can show you how to play, land and safely release a fish

How an experienced fishing guide can help you

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  • Over 50 years ago when the pace of life was much slower, the writer Dermot Wilson commented “In the West Country you can catch trout from after breakfast till sunset, and enjoy the open air and the country for as long as the sun is in the sky"
  • Devon is still blessed with mile after mile of superb fishing for wild brown trout, sea trout and salmon.
  • A fly fishing guide can unlock the secrets of catching these wild fish in unspoilt surroundings.
  • Many of the beats we use have benefited from work carried out by the Westcountry Rivers Trust to improve access for anglers.
  • A guide can help you read a river and understand why some parts of the river are more likely to hold larger fish.
  • Westcountry trout are generally not fussy eaters but sometimes the size of the fly does matter.
  • Being able to recognize the insects that live on stones on the bed of the rivers will give you confidence that you are using the right type of fly.
  • A roll cast is often the best way of delivering a fly when you are faced with overhanging bankside vegetation.
  • We can help you refine your casting techniques.
  • If you understand what triggers a trout to take a natural fly then you will be able to choose an artificial fly with greater confidence.
  • A guide will explain how a trout manages to intercept a tiny morsel of food being carried by the current down a fast flowing river.
  • This will help you present your fly more effectively.
  • We can help you plan your trip by offering advice on where to stay and suggesting places to eat after a day on the river.
  • You probably prefer to use your own equipment. But if you want, we can lend you a rod, reel and line and supply flies and tippet material at no extra cost. Please bring your Environment Agency rod licence. We can supply you with Westcountry Angling Passport permit tokens.

Advice on buying fishing tackle

We are often asked for advice on buying fly fishing equipment. The best piece of advice we can offer beginners is to see – and use - our equipment before making your purchase. Time after time we see well-meaning parents, or keen beginners, come to a lesson with totally unsuitable - and often very expensive - tackle.

As fly fishing instructors we probably subject tackle to more use in a month than the average angler does in a year. We have experience of good and bad tackle: accessories that simply fall apart; poorly constructed reels that can trap expensive fly lines between cage and spool; waders and jackets with design problems that will send you home shivering and wet, and rods that qualify for the description "carpet beaters" as well as others that merit the accolade "world beaters".

We would be happy to recommend complete outfits as well as single pieces of equipment that in our experience are robust, backed up by good after-sales service, and offer genuine value for money.

Equipment for Westcountry rivers

When you purchase a set of suitable equipment please ask the dealer to bear the following suggestions in mind:

  • If you intend to fish mainly on small Westcountry rivers for wild brown trout we recommend a rod between 7 and 8 feet, AFTM rated 3, 4 or 5. If you intend to fish mainly on small stocked stillwaters or reservoirs, a 9 foot rod rated AFTM 5, 6 or 7 would be more suitable. 
  • You will also need a suitable reel, weight forward (WF) or double taper (DT) floating fly line, backing, braided loop and tapered leader(s). Ask the dealer to load the reel with the backing and fly line, and join the braided loop to the end of the fly line. 
  • You will also need some tippet material (e.g. about 3lb (or 7X) breaking strain for river work and at least 6lb b.s. for small stillwaters), scissors or snips, a priest and net (if you do not intend to ‘catch and release’), fly floatant, a fly box and a few flies suitable for wild brown trout and stocked rainbows. 
  • A pair of forceps is useful if you intend to 'catch and release'.
  • You may want to buy a fly vest to keep all this stuff in.
  • We recommend you buy chest waders if you intend to fish on a river
  • Finally, and most importantly, wear some form of eye protection

Some thoughts on buying a fly rod

If you are a beginner:

  • don't buy a rod without trying it first
  • try several rods before making your first purchase
  • don't be tempted by low-budget beginners outfits; learning to cast a fly is difficult enough without having to cope with poor tackle
  • beginners deserve the best rods; more experienced casters can often adapt their casting to cope with poor rods
  • when testing a rod, don't just find out how far it will throw the fly line
  • just because a rod can cast a fly line 'a country mile' that doesn't mean it will be a useful fishing rod
  • most of the fishing on small west country rivers requires casts of 20 to 30 feet, therefore you should test how the rod performs with less than 30 feet of fly line beyond the tip
  • The fly line is just as important - if not more so - than the rod. Avoid combining an expensive rod with a cheap line.

This paragraph - from the American rod maker Tom Morgan - sums up what we look for in a fly fishing rod:

"What makes a great trout rod? Most importantly, it has to become what I call a "thought rod." When you are fishing with it, you almost forget that you have a rod in your hand. It becomes an extension of your physical body, and, almost always, you think where you want the fly to go, and, as if by magic, the fly appears there. This fluid action comes because the rod is wonderfully smooth, bends sufficiently to communicate with the angler how it's working, and has an inherent delicacy. And, it does this at the normal distances that you fish for trout." Tom Morgan (2002)
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  • The Upper Yealm Fishery is tucked away on the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park
  • There is private parking alongside the meadow that borders the river
  • This section of the river has a good stock of brown trout and receives a run of sea trout in the summer
  • There is a chance of catching a salmon particularly in the autumn when salmon fishing extends into December
  • The Yealm Fishery is divided into two beats 
  • The Lower beat has five holding pools and offers good brown trout fishing 
  • The Weir Pool is especially suited to beginners. It is relatively wide and free from overhanging vegetation.
  • The majority of wild brown trout caught on Dartmoor and South Devon rivers are less than eight inches long
  • But each season anglers catch larger twelve or thirteen inch fish
  • The graph show the number of trout - of various sizes - caught during a survey by fisheries scientists on a local river 
  • Most of the trout were less than eight inches long Relatively few trout of ten inches or longer were caught and hardly any fish of thirteen inches or longer were taken
  • Video shows 12 inch fish to hand
  • It is possible to use an overhead cast on some places on the Lower beat 
  • But a roll cast is better especially on the Upper Beat where the river is narrower and overhanging vegetation can catch your fly 
  • In the summer months the Yealm enjoys a run of sea trout 
  • These are occassionly caught during the day 
  • But sea trout are very easily spooked during the daylight
  • More success is likely by fishing after dark 
  • Daylight reconnaissance is essential to learn where the sea trout are lying 
  • I hope you enjoy the Upper Yealm Fishery and that you encounter the wildlife, some common and some rarely seen.
  • When I first started fishing Westcountry rivers 40 years ago otters were rarely seen, but they have made a comeback 
  • Nowadays it's not unusual to see otters during daylight 
  • Last summer I was lucky enough to encounter a pair of otters while I was watching a shoal of sea trout 
  • The adult otter and pup had caught a fairly large sea trout and they both held on to the fish as they tumbled with it downstream
  • I was taken completely by surprise but I did manage to catch some footage after I had fumbled around and retrieved my camera 
  • If you listen carefully you can just make out the cat-like cry of the pup in this video

Flies for Dartmoor & South Devon rivers

We are often asked for advice on what flies to use on local rivers. This is a perfectly understandable request. Even as guides we suffer agonies of uncertainty about what flies to take when we go on holiday to unfamiliar rivers.

Westcountry trout are generally not fussy eaters but sometimes the design of fly does matter.

Being able to recognize insects that live on stones on the bed of the rivers and stages in their life-cycle will give you confidence that you are using the right type of fly.

If you tie your own flies, you may find it useful to get hold of a copy of Peter Gathercole's book "The Fly Tying Bible".

Here is a list of flies from Gathercole's book that we find useful on our local rivers

  • Elk Hair Emerger 
  • Polywinged Midge 
  • Elk Hair Caddis 
  • Adams 
  • Balloon Caddis 
  • Sparkle Dun 
  • Hare's Ear Nymph 
  • Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph 
  • Goldhead Bug 
  • Sparkle Pupa 
  • Soft Hackle -  use pheasant tail or hare's ear for the body 

Another useful book is Max Fielding's "The Complete Fisherman's Fly".

Here is a list of flies from Fielding's book that we use on local rivers:

  • Bead Sawyer Bug 
  • Endrick Spider (add a thorax to convert it to a Cruncher) 
  • Balloon Caddis 
  • Sparkle Dun 
  • Hawthorn Fly 
  • Adams 
  • Elk Hair Sedge 
  • Sedgehog (used for sea trout as a wake lure) 
  • Black and Peacock Spider 

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Devon's Wild Brown Trout 

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  • The journalist Andrew Brown in a newspaper article has summed up the attraction of fishing n Dartmoor. He wrote " To gain a sense of remoteness from the quotidian world and closeness to primal monsters is one of the main reasons for fishing. This is quite unrelated to the size of the quarry. It's a function of their wildness. Wild brown trout are now almost impossible to find in the south east of England and little values where they are found compared to fat stocked fish. Dartmoor offers the last remaining accessible and affordable fishing for them in southern England"
  • The majority of wild brown trout caught on Dartmoor and South Devon rivers are less than eight inches long
  • But each season anglers catch larger twelve or thirteen inch fish
  • As guides and instructors we are often asked "Are big fish more difficult to catch than smaller fish? and are big fish smarter than smaller fish?"
  • As guides and instructors we often ask ourselves "Do skilled anglers catch more fish and do skilled anglers catch bigger fish?"
  • This short video discusses the size of trout in the rivers we fish on Dartmoor and in South Devon 
  • I hope it will help you appreciate our fish of whatever size
  • It's our job to show you the necessary skills to catch them and to explain why we treat them all with great care
  • The graph shows the number of trout of various sizes caught by anglers on a Westcountry river
  • Most of the trout were less than eight inches long
  • Relatively few trout of ten inches or longer were caught
  • And hardly any fish of thirteen inches or longer were taken
  • Two questions spring to mind: "Why were so few big fish caught?" and "Are big fish older and wiser?" and therefore less likely to be caught by anglers
  • The larger fish are certainly older. This graph shows the growth rate of wild brown trout in our area.
  • Fish of twelve to fourteen inches take six years to reach that length
  • Our trout are about three years old before they spawn for the first time
  • Consequently small fish should be carefully returned to the water so that they have an opportunity to reproduce
  • It also helps to use barbless hooks
  • But are larger surviving fish necessarily smarter and more difficult to catch than younger smaller fish?
  • They are certainly better at avoiding predators 
  • They may be more easily scared bu unfamiliar shadows, sights and vibrations than non-survivors 
  • But we need to remember tat fish have evolved to deal with their natural enemies, not necessarily anglers flys 
  • Provided you can present an appropriate fly at an appropriate time and place, and most importantly do it in such a way that you do not scare the fish, there is no reason why you should not be successful 
  • But how do you catch the bigger fish?
  • There is a well-known saying that 10% of the anglers catch 90% of the fish
  • The graph suggests that there are simply fewer bigger fish, and therefore the more fish you can actually catch, then they greater the chance that one of them will be big
  • If you do catch a big one treat it with the respect it deserves; after all it is one of nature's great survivors 
  • But don't worry if you don't catch a big fish. It really is just a matter of proportions!
  • John Gierach's book " Fly Fishing Small Streams" is a beautifully constructed mixture of 'How-to' information and mental approach to fishing small streams.
  • Gierach has a refreshing approach to the increasing tendency to equate fishing quality with the size of the fish caught 
  • For example he writes " Let me introduce an idea, just something to kick around. Maybe your stature as a fly fisherman isn't determined by how big a trout you catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed. And of course without loosing the faith that there's a bigger trout in there"
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  • Anglers often ask "What fly will catch a trout?"
  • I want to turn that question on its head, and explore how a trout recognizes and intercepts a fly drifting towards it on the surface of the water
  • The answer may give an insight into how to design effective trout flys and why our artificial trout flys are sometimes ignored by feeding trout 
  • Trout see the world through a skylight or circular window surrounded by a mirror 
  • Marinaro's great insight was to recognize how trout use the position of the fly in this window to make an effective rise 
  • Because of the laws of refraction fish cannot see objects that lie below an angle of 10 degrees to the water surface at the edge of their window
  • The red triangles in these diagrams show this blind spot extending outwards all around the edge of the trout's window
  • This is why we adopt a stealthy approach when casting to a rising trout
  • We often judge where to cast our fly by noting where a trout rises to take a natural fly
  • But there is a flaw in this approach which has been explained by Vince Marinaro 
  • It turns out that trout get advanced warning of a fly long before it appears in their window 
  • Trout are able to see parts of an insect or artificial fly that rests on or punctures the mirror
  • The bodies of emerging flies break through the water surface; they hang beneath the mirror
  • The legs of duns resting on the surface also create a 'light pattern' that triggers the start of the rise 
  • A number of authors have provided photographic evidence that trout can see the wings of approaching insects in their window 
  • The wings of an insect that protrude above an angle of greater than 10 degrees to the water surface are potentially visible in the window 
  • Therefore a trout has two cues that an approaching object may be edible 
  • Firstly body parts that break through the mirror 
  • Secondly wings appearing in the window 
  • There are photographs in Clarke and Goddard's book that show that when an insect reaches the edge of the trout's window a crucial event takes place
  • The wings, body and legs of the insect merge together 
  • Marinaro provides similar photographs and he summed up his extensive observational studies of trout feeding behaviour in these important words:
  • " It is an inescapable conclusion that the trout places the fly always at the edge of the window for all purposes: viewing, inspecting and taking"
  • Why does the trout keep the fly at the edge of the window?
  • I think trout behave in this way in order to judge the exact position of the fly. By keeping the fly in a precise position relative to its body, the trout stands a very good chance of engulfing the insect.
  • I'm not for one moment suggesting that trout do mathematical calculation. But I am suggesting that the trout's behaviour has evolved in response to the physical laws which describe its everyday environment.
  • We know that the trout's window has a width of 97 degrees and that the radius of the trout's window is a precise function of the depth of the trout in the water 
  • Therefore the distance between the trout and the insect can be calculated. This distance is a precise function of the depth of the trout in the water 
  • The trout stands a very good chance of successfully ingesting the fly if they drift downstream keeping the insect on the edge of the window. 
  • The acquisition of this skill may involve learning, maturation and practice.
  • The main message from this analysis is that a successful trout fly should present a primary trigger stimulus that penetrates the mirror. This engages the trout's attention and initiates the rise. 
  • Wings on the artificial may act as cues during a rise to maintain the trout's movement towards the fly 
  • Marinaro's theory can also account for how a trout intercepts a natural or artificial fly swimming beneath the surface.
  • As the sunk fly approaches the fish sees two images:the actual fly and its reflection in the mirror 
  • And then a single image when the fly crosses the edge of the fish's window 
  • By keeping the fly on the edge of the window, the trout stands a very good chance of engulfing the insect.

Guides' "Day-off": Geoff and Paul fishing the West Dart

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Fly Fishing Devon guides and instructors

We are qualified fly fishing instructors and Snowbee registered instructors and fishing guides

Paul Kenyon

Paul lives in Ivybridge on the southern edge of Dartmoor about 6 miles from the Upper Yealm Fishery. Paul devotes more time than is reasonable to his lifelong love of all things associated with fish, fishing and Dartmoor rivers.

Geoff Stephens

Geoff lives in Chagford half a mile from the river Teign and within easy distance of the Dartmoor lakes and streams. Geoff's favourite fishing is for brown trout in the wilds of Dartmoor.

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Tim Rolston is an experienced South African fly fishing guide.He had this to say about a day fishing on Dartmoor with Geoff:

" I was well looked after by Geoff Stephens of “Fly Fishing Devon". He recommended where I might stay, where I could get a permit and hiked me up hill and down dale in search of good water and better fishing. This is remote country and having Geoff there to guide me for the first outing was a huge plus, I can heartily recommend his services if you wish to explore these waters.

As a fishing guide myself I am well aware of the advantages of getting some local knowledge to kick start things and I wasn’t in the least disappointed to have Geoff with me on my first forays. In fact without his assistance I doubt that I would have found the best parts of the river or been confident enough that I was using the right tactics. If you have yet to sample these streams, and I strongly suggest that you do, then you can contact Geoff or his partner Paul Kenyon. Fishing guides do it because we love to help other anglers get the most of their time on the water. Geoff definitely fits into that category."

Tim Rolston visited Devon as manager for the South African team that took part in the 2014 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Competition on Dartmoor. You can read more on his impression of Westcountry fly fishing here
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Fly Fishing Devon Gift Voucher

A Fly Fishing Devon Gift Voucher makes a great Christmas, birthday, surprise present or way to say "thank you" at any time of the year.

The Gift Voucher can be designed to cover the needs of beginners as well as more experienced anglers.

We provide all the equipment: rod, reel, line etc. for the recipient.

Please ask the recipient to 'phone or email Fly Fishing Devon to arrange a suitable date and location and tailor a session to meet the needs of the person receiving the Gift Voucher.

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Contact Details

Booking Instruction and Guiding
Our preferred method of contact for initial enquiries is via email
  • Paul Kenyon by phone 01752 893382
  • Geoff Stephens by phone 01647 433373 or mobile 0774 986 7393
    If necessary leave a voicemail message. He is often in remote places with poor mobile reception

We would be delighted to plan a teaching session or guided trip to meet your needs.

We offer half and full day sessions to cover the needs of beginners and improvers, as well as sessions that can be tailored to meet the specific needs of more experienced anglers.

Our sessions are held at venues which offer you the opportunity to use your newly acquired skills to catch a trout.

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INSTRUCTION on stillwaters:

  • Half day (3 hours) The cost is £90 for one person. Additional anglers are £30 each (maximum of three in the group)
  • Full day (6 hours) The cost is £160 for one person. Additional anglers are £50 each (maximum of three in the group)
  • Half day (3 hours) £90 per person
  • Full day (6 hours) £160 per person
GIFT VOUCHER stillwater or river: Half day (3 hours) £90 Full day (6 hours) £160

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