The Tamar system boasts the most westerly population of grayling in Britain, and can offer sport after the trout fishing has closed at the end of September.
Grayling numbers do not match the huge densities encountered on the chalkstreams, and often winter spates can put the river out of order for long periods, so it is best to phone at short notice.
While a one pound trout on the Tamar is a very good fish, a grayling of that size is not unusual, with fish of one and a half to two pounds perfectly possible. Surprisingly, it is often night sea trout fishers who catch some of these larger grayling, on flies as big as a long-shank size four!
After spawning in early summer, the grayling slowly recover condition and are feeding well by August. At this time of year they respond well to dry flies - anglers should match the hatch and take particular care to avoid drag.
The deep-lying habits of the grayling give the fish a very long view of the fly's drift, and any drag will simply mean a complete refusal. Often grayling can be seen rising with no obvious fly on the water. Look very carefully and it will be seen that they are coming up to tiny gnats or midges which are barely visible in the surface film. Again, match the hatch, using simple cul de canard (CDC) patterns such as an F-Fly, in sizes down to 20 or even smaller.
Grayling are very fast takers and will eject a fly in a split-second, so strike without delay. Unlike brown trout, they are much more tolerant of human intrusion, so if you find a few rising fish they can be approached fairly closely, where a short line will help you to connect with them more quickly.
The dry fly can produce grayling all through the winter, as long as fish are rising, but once the first big winter spates have flushed the river of leaves and algae, nymphing comes into its own.
Standard Czech or Polish style nymphing with a short line and a team of heavy bugs can be very effective in the faster runs. However, in many of the slower pools, a single nymph, fished with some sort of indicator, is the chosen method. The weight of the nymph and the distance to the indicator need to be judged nicely to allow the nymph to fish very close to the riverbed. As with the dry fly, rapid striking is essential.
Typical Tamar Grayling
All standard nymph patterns will work, including old favourites like the Red Tag, better still with a gold bead-head. Hare's Ear and Pheasant Tail nymphs are good, and a variation on Sawyer's Killer Bug, tied with a grey partridge hackle and a gold or copper bead-head, is an absolute must. Pink or orange nymphs are also useful, although in the winter these often take a lot of unseasonable trout.
If you are grayling fishing on the Tamar during the winter, please remember that this is primarily a trout, sea trout and salmon fishery, and avoid wading in areas where these fish will spawn. In other words, keep off the gravels in the pool tails - one step on a salmon or trout redd can kill all of the eggs buried in the gravel. Always use barbless hooks to facilitate safe release of all fish. And as an afterthought, don't use extremely fine nylon. This author has caught two salmon on nymphs intended for grayling!
Devon and Cornwall offer some of the most varied sea fishing in Europe. The River Tamar estuary itself is a hotspot for the shore angler, with thornback ray, huge conger eels and winter cod among some of the most sought-after species.
Just offshore is the infamous Eddystone Reef and Plymouth-based charter boats target the area for a wide variety of species including giant pollack, conger eels, cod and big shoals of bass using an assortment of methods.
From spring to late autumn, the jewel in the crown of sea fishing in the area is without doubt the bass.
For the shore angler, the north Cornish and Devon coastline, within a half-hour's drive of the middle Tamar, has everything. Miles of classic surf beaches meet with vast swathes of boulders, gullies and kelp, all overlooked by stunning, sheer cliff backdrops. Fishing an evening flood on beaches such as Trebarwith Strand near Tintagel and Widemouth Bay in the Bude area can produce terrific sport for the surf fisher using light tackle and fishing by feel.
Stood thigh-deep in water as the sun sets, you feel that first electrifying tug as a bass picks up your bait - this is one of the greatest thrills in British angling.
Bait for surf fishing is usually fresh lugworm or sandeel (live or frozen), fished on a simple running leger with a weight of two to four ounces, depending on surf and tide.
Chest waders are a must to keep dry as you will need to wade into the edge of the surf to make a cast into the breakers. There is an old adage that says the bass will hunt the third breaker, but realistically they will often be caught at much closer range, and as the tide floods into darkness, fish will feed confidently in just a couple of feet of water. Most of the fish caught here will be 'schoolies', weighing from 12oz to a couple of pounds, although larger fish are not uncommon and double-figure specimens are caught every year.
The best time to fish is usually a couple of hours either side of low water, although some beaches respond better at certain times and, of course, everything varies in fishing. Bass tend to feed more confidently in darkness, so an evening flood tide is usually best - this also means that you avoid fishing among crowds of surfers and summer beachgoers.
Local anglers hunting for the bigger stamp of fish usually head for rough ground. This is often mountain-goat territory and is not for the unfit. Safety is the most important issue, and it's always best to fish with a friend and to ensure that you take a mobile phone with you in case you get into trouble. Be very aware of heavy swells and rising tides - each year even experienced anglers are drowned while fishing this coastline.
Fly fishing for bass offers great sport
As the tide starts to flood, bass hunt very shallow water, searching for food. The bait angler will again opt for light tackle, but this time fish fresh peeler crab in the gullies. One of the most popular methods however, is to fish plugs, and in calmer conditions, with fly tackle. This is active, exciting fishing where the name of the game is to cover lots of water and to get to know the movements of fish in the area with the tide and weather. The plugger will opt for a rod of 10ft to 11ft, a fixed-spool reel loaded with 12lb to 15lb line (or equivalent braid) and large, shallow-diving or surface plugs such as those produced by Yo-Zuri, Rapala or Storm.
The bass fly fisher will need good casting technique, mainly to overcome the prevailing wind and to help cover more water. A line-tray to hold retrieved line and keep it away from fast-moving water, rocks and weed will also help a great deal. Outfits most commonly used are 9ft rods to take lines rated 8 to 9, with a floating line being the most versatile, especially when fishing the shallows. Flies must match the prey, so patterns to imitate small fish and sandeels are most common, with the Clouser Minnow and Surf Candy in various colours being two typical patterns. Surface poppers made of high-density foam will also bring fish to the top and result in explosive, arm-wrenching takes, very often from the bigger fish. On these rocky areas, first and last light are again the most productive times for the bass fisher.
In late summer, mackerel, garfish, pollack and even sea trout join the bass in frenzied feeding, giving the light-tackle sea angler an opportunity of truly magical sport.