As the year races past it is essential to ensure that plans discussed at the start of the season get acted upon. At the Roadford Fly Fair at the end of February I chatted with Luke Bannister about a trip to the river that was discussed further when we met up at the Orvis Outlet Opening at the Arundell Sporting Hotel in March.

After a few messages back and forth Luke and I set a day to meet up and fish the Arundell’s water in early June. We arranged to meet at the Arundell at 9:30am where we could meet up with David Pilkington who would allocate a beat for the day and give valuable advice.
The Arundell has over twenty miles of fishing on the Tamar and its tributaries with an abundance of wild brown trout fishing along with salmon, sea trout and grayling. It was the wild browns that Luke and I would be targeting and with a few mayfly still showing we hoped for success on the dry fly.
It was very busy when we met up with David Pilkington who had allocated us beat 4 on the River Thrushel a beat I had glimpsed briefly during the visit to in March.
Enjoyment of the day was undoubtedly top of the agenda and Luke and I retreated to the Arundell Deli for a fresh coffee before venturing to the river. There was of course plenty to discuss and Luke didn’t expect the trout to start rising until late morning.

The Arundell is undoubtedly in good hands with the present owners well versed in what their fishing and shooting clientele require to ensure an enjoyable stay. Luke and I both appreciate the value of such sporting hotels to the rural economy and of course to the future of fly fishing. Key to the survival of this is the health of the regions rivers. The declining salmon and sea trout stocks are of concern as is the decline of insect life brought about by the use of insecticides. These issues and others of the wider world were dissected over coffee before setting off for the beat.
The day was bright and sunny with a cool westerly breeze. It is always exciting to explore a new venue and I was fortunate to have Luke’s company as he had fished the beat on previous occasions.
Luke is renowned for his exquisite hand built split cane fly rods, fly boxes and leaders.

I had intended to discuss rods with Luke but in our keenness to get fishing such discussions didn’t materialise. Luke put together a very pleasing looking 7ft 4 Wt cane wand whilst I took out my 7ft Snowbee Classic Carbon 4wt. Armed with this suitably matched reels, lines and a few flies we set out to the river after looking over the old stone bridge to assess the state of the river.

The river was running low with just a tinge of colour reminding me of beats I have fished on the Upper Torridge a river that shares many characteristics with the Tamar.
The Thrushel as described on the Arundell’s website: –
The Thrushel and its own tributary, the Wolf, is a pretty, lowland river which affords excellent trout fishing. The Thrushel itself is a small to medium sized river with a good number of open pools for the novice fisherman to target some excellent wild brown trout. Its tributary the Wolf is slightly smaller and trickier, requiring more fishing experience. Both rivers are characterised by short gravelly runs with trout holding pockets that flow into rock formed pools. To get the best from your day, the ability to cast from both shoulders is preferable as many of the runs and pots require working your way up the river from side to side and between access points. A short rod of 7ft or so is recommended. It should also be noted that the water levels on the Wolf are controlled by output from Roadford reservoir ensuring that it is often fishable when all other rivers are running too high after rainfall.
Species – Brown Trout, Grayling
Size of River – Medium/small
Wading difficulty – Medium
Ease of access and Fishability – Medium
Trout Equipment – 7’6”- 8’6” #3/4 weight rods

Whilst I very much enjoy fishing alone there is undoubtedly great value in sharing a day with a fellow angler and it was a privilege to explore this delightful river on this early summer day.
Tactics were discussed with Luke opting for a single bead headed nymph. We discussed the merits of New Zealand style tactics that are often used to explore the water giving the best of both worlds in many anglers opinion. Whilst Luke agreed with the effectiveness he prefers to focus on either dry fly or nymph tactics believing this a more rewarding and enjoyable way to fish

We entered the tranquil and shaded riverside and paused to take in the surroundings. A chiff chaff’s song reverberated through the air. The trees were in full leaf offering areas of shade as the river flowed tranquilly between rocky banks that were interspersed with tree roots. A river that could easily be the setting for the author BB’s delightful tome ‘The Little Grey Men’, a book that tells of the adventures of four gnomes as they travel down a stream. In all its full summer beauty: throughout the story runs the secret music of the stream, the songs of the water birds, the whisper of the sedges.
We watched carefully for signs of rising fish.

Luke demonstrated an extensive in depth knowledge of entomology talking of the flies he expected to see throughout the season and which patterns are best used as imitation’s.
Luke’s approach was calm and measured and I felt totally at ease in his presence. Sometimes there can be a degree of pressure when sharing a day as you don’t want to show incompetence by tangling in the trees or scaring the wily trout.

We took it in turns to fish the pools and glides. Discussing where we thought the fish would lie and delighting in dropping the fly into the sweet spot. Reading the water is a skill gleaned over many days even years beside the water. And whilst every river is different there are similarities that are common to all rivers from tiny brooks to the majestic lower reaches.

As we fished we talked of past fishing forays in waters both at home and abroad. We both caught a few small crimson spotted wild browns that were a delight to briefly admire before slipping back into the river.
After reaching the top of the beat we headed back down river to revisit promising lies. I waded into a deep run to search with a weighted nymph whilst Luke watched on. As I turned to wade back I slipped into a deep pocket and lost my balance momentarily slipping forwards into the deep water. Cool water surged over my wader top and I felt a moment of panic and then embarrassment at my clumsiness.

It proved costly as my phone though never totally submerged later packed up requiring a costly repair. I really should make sure I keep it within an aqua-pack.
After this brief moment of angst we continued on and headed for a stretch we had been advised to fish at the Lower end of the beat below the road bridge.
We entered a new stretch through a padlocked gate. A deep and shady pool was at the very bottom of the beat. Luke suggested I start at the bottom of the pool whilst he fished the run above.
I made my way carefully through head high undergrowth of water hemlock and nettles. A trout rose under the overhanging branches. I crept into position and flicked a grey duster delicately where the rings had shown. A shadow appeared and a trout sipped in the fly. A pleasing wild brown of perhaps 8” was brought to the waiting net.

I dried the fly and cast again and was thrilled to see a good sized trout of perhaps 1lb approach the fly before turning away with disdain.

I fished carefully up the pool and hooked another similar sized trout at the head of the pool. Luke and I compared notes and I suggested he try for the big fish at the shady tail of the pool. I fished slowly up the promising looking run above. I saw a fish rise and put my offering onto the spot. This is surely the most satisfying of moments in angling as the trout again rose and I felt that delightful harmony of deception and connection. The fish was the best of the day a pleasing brown of perhaps 10” its flanks olive and bronze decorated in crimson and black spots.

Luke captured the moment on camera and we walked up river having a few casts here and there before converging at the bridge.
It was late afternoon and we had shared a great day at the waters edge. Catching close to a dozen trout between us.
I cannot cast off without mentioning those hand crafted split cane rods. I would draw a parallel to classic sports cars that get you from A to B no quicker but do so in a manner that is undoubtedly pleasing to the soul.

Last casts made its time to head off home.


A Visit to The Arundell Arms at Lifton a longstanding Country Hotel with a rich history for shooting and fishing

The Arundell Arms at Lifton is a longstanding Country Hotel with a rich history for shooting and fishing. When I saw that a new Orvis outlet was opening there in mid-March a visit for Pauline and I was undoubtedly in order.

After one of the wettest February’s on record and an exceptionally wet start to March the 2024 start to the salmon season has been very much  a non-starter. And as we drove through Devon crossing the Torridge and Tamar enroute we noted the muddy and swollen bank high rivers. There would be no fishing for a few days at least.

We arrived at the Arundell Arms mid-morning and walked into the new Orvis store to be greeted warmly by David Pilkington. A gentlemen I had not previously met but a name that is synonymous with West Country Fly Fishing.

David Pilkington joined the Cornwall River Board as a trainee bailiff at the age of sixteen and joined the team at the Arundell in 1976 as assistant river keeper and fishing instructor. We chatted with David about his years at the Arundell and inevitably reflected upon the catastrophic collapse in salmon and sea trout numbers. Like many anglers of our generation I feel that we perhaps share both a deep rooted sadness at what we have seen and an acknowledgement that we were lucky to fish through such wonderous days of abundance.

A wide range of salmon, sea trout and trout flies suitable for West Country waters were available  and I inevitably succumbed to temptation purchasing a few salmon and trout  flies. I just hope they appeal to the fish as much as to me! An impressive rack of Orvis fly rods and reels were on display, clothing waders and tackle adorned the opposite wall all exuding quality that was reflected by the price tag.

After chatting with David we engaged in conversation with the Arundell’s new owners. Simon Village and Arabella Munro. They took over the Hotel in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic a challenging time to embark upon such a venture for sure.

Simon was undoubtedly well versed in the Hotels rich history and traditions and recounted the glorious days when the Hotel was under the stewardship of Conrad Voss Bark and his wife Anne Voss Bark. The Arundell Arms is one of few remaining Country Sports Hotels left in the West Country. I recall with fondness the Carnarvon Arms and Tarr Steps Hotel  on the Barle in Somerset and several other establishments that were once thriving hubs of country life.

Simon and Arabella’s passion for preserving this rich cultural heritage was evident as we chatted about the river, its fish and its fishers. These Country Hotels with fishing and shooting have over the years hosted many with wealth and influence upon the land along with many of anglings greatest writers. Unlike many large country historic houses that are now preserved by the National Trust or run as theme parks these establishments still maintain a real beating heart of Country life and tradition.

Whilst the demise of salmon and sea trout is undoubtedly very sad. The thriving wild brown trout and grayling give hope for a bright future at the Arundell. Twenty two miles of glorious river meandering through the border lands of Devon and Cornwall.

After booking Sunday lunch we headed to the famous Cockpit to grab a fresh coffee before trying out one of the new Orvis rods on the lawn. The cockpit was once used for the barbaric sport of cockfighting. In recent years it has been the Hotels rod room and location for pre fishing briefings. There is a great deal of research carried out before these rods are released and it was a joy to have a few casts with a rod of undoubted quality.

Pauline and I enjoyed a delicious lunch in the Hotel Bar as warm spring sunshine beamed in through the windows. A smouldering log fire, Spring flowers, Suitably piscatorial pictures on the walls along with cheerful friendly staff made it a perfect way to spend a Sunday lunch.

Suitably refreshed we headed to Arundell’s Tin Hay Lake half a mile down the road. The lake is an old flooded quarry its gin clear waters providing superb fishing for stocked browns and rainbows. Today Orvis and Arundell team members were offering expert tuition to a mixture of experienced anglers and keen novices.

We chatted with members of the Orvis team and local anglers. We also conversed with Luke Bannister maker of fine split cane rods, we delved into the joys of fishing and how those magic wands that deliver flies to the trout are instruments of delight. I pondered upon the worth of rods with price tags upwards of £1000. My own analogy was to liken the difference between a cheap run-around car and a Ferrari. The distance can be covered just the same with both cars as a trout fly can be delivered with equal effect to the wily trout. And so the question we are left with is not in relation to the catching of fish but more the delight in using tools that ooze that essence of quality that cannot always be seen or quantified.  The difference between a true diamond and cubic zirconia ring perhaps.

We also drifted briefly into the toxic world of modern politics and the fight to clean up the nation’s rivers. There is certainly a growing and united movement of protest about the state of our rivers.

After a pleasant and engaging conversation we headed off for a walk along country lanes. The road took us over a bridge that crossed the River Thrushel a tributary of the River Tamar. The hedges and riverside banks were brightened with the carpets of yellow celandines. Daffodils were still in bloom but past their best an indication of increasingly early springs.

The river was alluring despite its turbid brown colour its gurgling sound adding a pleasing symphony to the spring day.

The country scene is one that will linger in my minds eye until the day I depart this earth.

         After a pleasing and engaging day at Arundell I have plans to return later in the Spring rod in hand to explore waters that to me are uncharted. I will of course call into the store for some sound advice and maybe a fly or two recommended by David and the Arundell team. 

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