Fly fishing in Devon: an expert guide

Richard Jackson is one of the most experienced fly fishing guides in the county, with over 30 years of experience in fly fishing in Devon, and an intimate knowledge of the local rivers.

He guides guests at luxury Devon hotel Gidleigh Park, which offers fishing on its own stretch of the Teign, and independently in waters across Devon as Devon Fly Fisher.
Richard told Visit Devon how to get started, where’s best to go – and all about the thrill of the cast.

Fishing in Devon Fly Fisher b

Read more about fishing in Devon: Dartmoor; South Devon; Exeter and surrounds; Torquay, Paignton and Brixham

Find more places to stay in Devon that offer fishing and other sports: Dartmoor; North Devon and Exmoor; South Devon; Exeter and surrounds; Plymouth; Torquay, Paignton and Brixham
Find more active things to do in Devon: Dartmoor; North Devon and Exmoor; South Devon; Exeter and surrounds; Plymouth; Torquay, Paignton and Brixham

What exactly is fly fishing?
Fly fishing is presenting an artificial fly to a fish in the hope it will take your offering. It’s a majestic type of fishing which, when it all comes together, is like poetry in motion. When you complete the perfect cast, delicately presented to a rising trout, it slurps your imitation down and off it races, it doesn’t get any better than that!

What’s the attraction? Is it a popular holiday pastime?
Where do I start?! The moment the fish takes your fly is such a buzz; it could be the tiniest of brown trout sipping your fly, or the fish of a lifetime – you just never know! Each time, your skills are being pitted against millions of years of evolution and you need to deceive that wily fish.

And almost as good is that fishing gets you out into the fresh air and into Devon’s stunning outdoors. You’ll see deer, foxes – and maybe even an otter. The sounds of the birds and the gentle noise of the flowing river tumbling over the granite stones totally relaxes you, and day-to-day stresses just melt away.

It’s a very popular holiday activity; anyone can sneak some fly fishing equipment into the car before venturing to Devon, or book a session with someone like me, and it’s a wonderful way to relax.

Fishing in Devon 1pCan anyone take part?
Absolutely, yes!
Beginners that I meet at Gidleigh Park often hadn’t even considered this fantastic sport until they arrive at the hotel and peruse the hotel’s list of activities. Approximately 60% of those that I teach at the hotel are complete novices; the remainder are experienced fly fishermen who just require the expert knowledge of the fishing guide. It’s no longer considered an elitist sport either – there’s fishing available for all budgets. And whilst this is still a male dominated sport, more and more women are taking it up and – dare I say it – women can be easier to teach than the male of the species!

A certain amount of agility, and at times fitness is required, especially when venturing onto the wilderness of Dartmoor, but there’s somewhere appropriate for all abilities; the local reservoirs have well maintained areas to fish from, and supply wheelie boats for those with special mobility needs.

Very young children however have a limited attention span and get tired fairly quickly so I usually say that it’s an activity for ages 10 and up.

What equipment do you need?
If you employ the services of a fishing guide they’ll usually loan you everything you need. And if you’re using your own, it can be quite simple: a rod, reel, fly line, nylon line, net, and a few flies and you’re away. If you intend on fishing the rivers you’ll also need chest waders.

What makes Devon so good for fly fishing?
We’re blessed in Devon, with a huge selection of rivers and lakes and the coast within an hour’s drive from anywhere within the county. Our rivers are mainly spate rivers, which means they rise and fall quickly after rain, so even if you only have a few days spare you should still get some fishing in, should the heavens open.

Fly fishing in Devon sWhich are your favourite spots for fly fishing in Devon?
I’m passionate about my local River Teign, which flows through the grounds of the Gidleigh Park Hotel: it’s challenging for the more experienced fly fisherman, but further downstream it becomes more open which makes casting easier.

Then we have the Duchy waters on Dartmoor. Owned by Prince Charles, it provides over 20 miles of fishing on the upper reaches of the river Dart.

My absolute favourite reservoir is Kennick – difficult to find but a real gem when you do, and stocked with hard fighting rainbows by the South West Lakes Trust.

Of the two coasts I prefer the north coast near Bideford, which is an ideal location for salt water fly fishing and target species such as bass, Pollock and mackerel. On the south coast where the river Otter enters the sea at Budleigh Salterton there’s excellent fishing for bass, and also sea trout fishing is free up to the first bridge.

But my advice is that one of the BEST ways to explore the rivers of Devon is to buy some tokens from the Westcountry passport scheme  – it gives access to so many rivers you’ll be spoilt for choice!

Do you need a permit or fishing licence?
You need both, rod licences are sold at local post offices or available on-line. But do talk to your guide or hotel before you come – they can help arrange some elements for you. Those planning their own fishing may want to buy their rod licence on-line. Many post offices sell the permits or reservoirs have a self service facility.

What’s your top fly fishing tip?
That’s easy: employ the services of a qualified fly fishing instructor! It’ll be the best money you’ve ever spent: a shortcut to success for either the total novice or experienced fly fisherman. You might be offered well-meaning advice from relatives or friends, but if they’re not accomplished fly casters all they will do is transfer all their bad habits to you!

Devon accommodation that offer fishing experiences include: Gidleigh Park, The Mill End HotelThe Arundell Arms, The Fox and Hounds Country Hotel, Bovey Castle, Cofton Country Holidays, Riverside Caravan and Camping, The Meadfoot Bay Hotel, Newbarn Farm Cottage and Angling Centre