Saturday, 8 May 2010

Out and About- Wild Style.

It seems like ages since I last sat down and wrote a blog! So much so, that I forgot how to log-in and spent twenty minuets pressing buttons and trying to remember pass words. Whey-hey, but at last I managed it! I'm not really a computer kind of person. I am much more hands on. Give me an old stick and a knife and there is more chance of me whittling a clothes peg than there is of spending hours tapping a key pad. But never the less, I managed to get into the system and I'm away.

I woke up this morning to find my home town of Okehampton busier than usual. Originally coming from a large city, you soon get used to the quiet life of living in a small town after a while. So when it is full of people milling around and cars queuing all over the place, you know that something special is going on, or everyone was vacating town! This weekend is the 50th Anniversary of the 'Ten Tors Challenge'.

For those who have never heard of the 'Ten Tors' before, it is basically bit of a ramble up on the moors. A quick walk to the top of a rocky outcrop (tor) in the middle of no where, probably in the rain and then back down for tea and biscuits. If any pubs are en route, then perhaps a swift half and a bowl of water for the dog. Well, that would be my ten tors challenge anyway! Unfortunately, in reality it is nothing like this. Regularly guiding and fishing on the moorland streams, I know the terrain and area well, and the kind of hard work that people have to put in to complete such a task. Each May, hundreds try to complete the Dartmoor tradition of covering set routes of either 35, 45, or 55 miles, hiking over ten listed tors over a two day period. Overseen and manned by the armed forces this is a test of endurance and pride. And like usual, it started early in the morning and will finish back in Okehampton the following night. Hence the reason for all the back-packs and walking boots on show in the middle of town. At least for once I didn't look like the odd one out!

The first tor that is usually tackled on the challenge is Oke tor, which is our local tor and an area that I know well. On one side of it runs the East Okement and on the other is the upper Taw that runs through to Belstone village. I have spent countless hours fishing, hiking, scrambling and camping around this area, and have enjoying every minute of it. I doubt the competitor's of the ten tors challenge will have the added luxury of a bit of fly fishing during their time up there, but I'm sure they will enjoy the soak in the bath on the Sunday night. Who knows it might even be worth while setting up a stall at the bottom of the road selling bath salts and blister cream. I would like to wish them all good luck with the challenge and hope that the weather doesn't deteriorate too much more for them, than it has already started to do.

Personally I'm glad of this bit of rain and cloud we are having at the moment. It hasn't rained properly here in Devon for weeks and the rivers are still on their bones. We have still been catching plenty of wild browns, but it is about time that the system had a flush through with some fresh water and start to fill it a bit more. Even in some of the usual faster flowing water, it is having a job of drifting a fly downstream. I have just returned from a few days fishing on the moorland streams. The fishing was good, but selecting the best areas for the decent fishing meant bit of a walk. Most of the level is down by about two thirds, so a lot of the usual good runs and pools were nearly dry.

Instead of making the journey back and forth to the hot areas, I opted to camp out for a couple of days and soak up the rays. Even if the lack of water was affecting the river levels and fishing, I thought I would make the most of the nice sunny weather. No doubt it won't last for much longer and the rest of the season will be fished from looking under a hood. So throwing a few items into a ruck-sac I started the walk along the lower level path from town and began to fish along the length of the Okement as it wound it's way through the woodlands.

I tried to keep the kit as light as possible taking some of the strain out of the walking. If there is a couple of you taking on the trip then it easy to off load some of the weight between you. So it was a case of a small tent, light weight summer bag, therm-a-rest, dried food, a few spare dry clothes, stove, head torch and my fishing gear. If you are new to the area, or unfamiliar with the terrain and route then a map and compass would usually come. But this is a fly fishing route that I have taken many times before, so I left the extra weight at home and typically made it back up again with more flies.

Fishing in nearly a 'dry' pool, but plenty of fish were still in there.

Due to the level of the water and slowness of it's pace, presentation was critical. Sometimes when the river is in full flight and moving at a good pace then fly choice can be anything that is a slight resemblance of the food source. But when the fish have more time to inspect a passing meal, then tippets are as light as possible, fly size is reduced to miniature and looking through the fly box, the better of the imitation patterns were tied on. The day was spent fishing, casting, searching and walking. In the end I chose to fish a team of tungsten Stone fly nymphs and searched out the deeper pockets and pools. The fish came steady throughout the day as I made my way up stream and continued out of the woodlands and onto the bottom of the moors.

By the time I found a suitable camping area for the night, I set up the tent before it went dark, and carried on fishing to the bottom of the tors for a few hours before making my way back down for a cuppa and to get some food on the go. The menu was fairly basic. A few dried noodles and a cuppa soup. The desert made it complete though. A bag of m&m's! It felt a bit like being at home!

When it comes to wild camping on the moors, there are a few things to take into consideration. The first is to make sure your camp is in a suitable area. The Dartmoor National Park Authority
have guidelines that should be stuck to. With over 130 square miles of park, common land and wilderness to choose from, there is a list of things to do and not to do.

They advise that you:

  • Don't camp in an area that will affect nesting birds or lambing

  • Don't light camp fires

  • Don't over use a site, and only stay in small parties

  • Don't have a tent pitched in an area for more than two nights

  • Avoid pitching a tent on the mark left behind by another tent

  • Leave the area as you would wish to find it

  • Don't camp on archaeological sites

  • Don't camp within 100 meters of the road, or anywhere in site of farms or houses

  • Deal with all human waste responsibly

  • Be aware of military 'Live Firing' times and dates!!!!!!

All are good tips and pieces of advice, but perhaps the most important is the latter. Check when the MOD are using the moorland ranges for live firing. It is quite common for us to bump into troops as they are training. Most times you can go ahead and do your own thing. A commanding officer or look-out will inform you and ask you to keep to a certain path or route if you are going to interrupt a training exercise. It is a two way thing. As much as the forces need to train, they will also try and accommodate you using the same area. Only last week we held up 20 Royal Marines as they waited for us to fish a stretch of river that they wanted to 'dunk' their guys into. No doubt they were glad of the break, and actually seemed interested in the fishing that was going on. But when they are using an area for 'live firing' then this is a different matter. They do have flags and markers pitched when they are out on exercise to warn people about the dangers, and you will be told to move on if you get too close. After all, you don't really want to be woken up by a mortar round going off in your campsite!

I tend to carry drinking water with me when I'm going out for the day, but when an overnight stay is on the cards then I prefer to source water out of the streams. Water weighs about 1kg per litre. So on a hot day when you could be drinking up to a litre every couple of hours, then it is a lot of extra weight to carry. All water should be treated prior to use. Even though the running streams can look clear and clean, there could be a very good chance that there is a dead sheep or something rotting away in it somewhere further upstream. Drinking water can be treated in various ways from boiling, chemicals or filters. The cheapest and easiest way is to simply boil the water before it is used. If the water looks dirty and has bits in it, it is worth filtering the bits out before boiling it up. When using stoves whilst wild camping, always make sure it is placed on a flat stable platform like a stone. This will stop it from blowing or falling over, burning the grass or burning your campsite down. Another way to treat water is to use chemicals to purify it. Most common are chlorine tablets. They certainly do the job, but taste like your drinking swimming pool water. Nowadays there are some brilliant water pumps and purifying water bottles on the market. These aren't cheap, as much as £145, but if you into this kind of thing in a big way or you need to use a lot of water at the camp then they are certainly worth looking into.

Water purification is important, take precautions before drinking stream water.

Even during this dry spell we have been having, I have still opted to wear waders. In reality you could easily stick to the banks and fish from the waters edge without having to get in and get wet. There are a few reasons why I always wear waders on these trips. The first is to make traversing the moors a lot simpler. It means that if I did have to cross over the stream to reach another part, I could simply wade across instead of having to find a suitable crossing area or hopping across slippy stones. My luck would have me going for a dip and having to spend the rest of the day wet and cold. It doesn't take a lot to start to get cold up on the moors. Especially when the sun starts to drop or when a cold breeze blows across. Staying dry is a bonus, and when you are a few miles from home and having to sleep out, comfort is still the key. Another advantage of wearing waders is protection form all the gorse bushes that are dotted all over the place. You soon realise how sharp the thorns can be when you accidentally sit on one! As much as your waders protect you from getting thorned to death, they can soon puncture so it pays to watch out where your walking and pushing through to get to the streams. The last thing you need is a leaking pair of waders. They ain't cheap! Perhaps more important is to keep covered to stop an any sheep ticks latching onto you as you kick through the grass and bracken.

Sheep ticks or Ixodes Ricinus, are ugly little creatures. They are at their most active and prolific during April to October, feeding on sheep, dog, mouse, and human blood. They look like little grass crabs and will take advantage of any passing angler. You often see day walkers wearing short and t-shirts in the summer months as they make their way through the long grass. I know from personal experience about tick bites and the problems that they can cause. One problem with them is Lyme Disease is it's flu like symptoms that can spoil a good fishing trip. Left untreated it can start to effect joints, the nervous system and in rare cases people have died. So if you are spending time in 'tick country' your always best to keep your bare skin covered. It's also worth having a check over your body before getting into your sleeping bag to check that one isn't going to have a good feed whilst you are asleep. For more information on ticks and Lyme disease check out

'Happy Scratching'.

It has been nice to spend a bit of time down at the coast and get into a bit of saltwater action. Since the beginning of April, Derrick and myself have been keeping a good eye on the Bass fishing along the North Devon coast. As early as it was, there have been some good numbers of fish moving over the marks and I'm certain the sport will be hot throughout the summer. We have had some good times over there already. One fly that has still being doing the business for us is the old Thunder Creek style fly. It's easy to tie, easy to cast, easy to fish! It's still an all round winner. And I'm certain it will still be getting bends in rods for seasons to come!

Derrick setting off in search of Bass action!