Exmoor Fly Fishing

Techniques, locations and general guidance on Fly Fishing on Exmoor in North Devon and West Somerset

This article on fly fishing has been kindly supplied by Nick Hart, an expert fly fisherman who lives on Exmoor and  whose professional services include guiding and tuition:-

"Part of what makes Exmoor such a stunning place is the presence of water throughout the region. Spectacular valleys are often brought together by beautiful Rivers, the Coastline is constantly chewed by never ending waves while here and there a Lake puts in an appearance, a natural mirror quietly hiding amongst sprawling meadows.

For the Exmoor Fly Fisher it is what lives within these watery realms that provides the real interest. This short article is a guide to what you will need to tackle fly fishing on Exmoor.


There are many to choose from including the Exe, Barle and Lyn. Day tickets are freely available from various outlets including hotels, local farmers, tourist offices and specialist fishing agents. For a complete guide to the South West region and the venues which it offers, I can recommend the "Get Hooked" Guide. This little booklet represents excellent value and is available in most tackle shops and some newsagents throughout the area.

Freshwater Species:  Salmon, Sea Trout and Wild Brown Trout. There are also possibilities to catch Pike on the fly.


For River Trout fishing a 7 1/2 to 8 ft rod is ample, coupled to a number 4 / 5 weight floating line. Leaders should be fine, going as low as 2 1/2lb, with a maximum of 5lb. There is no real need for a net but a small pan version is recommended just in case a big one puts in an appearance. Most Wild Trout on Exmoor are very small, with 3 making a pound. However, there are good specimens available and it is possible to catch a monster with time and patience! Techniques need not be complicated with upstream dry fly and down stream spiders taking many fish.

Flies should include :
Dries : March Brown, Adams, Black Gnat, CDC F Fly and Elk Hair Sedge in sizes 18 - 12 Colours Black, Dark Olive Nymphs / Spiders : Snipe and Purple, Sawyer PT, Goldhead Hares Ear and Czech Nymphs in sizes 16 - 10.

Migratory species such as Salmon and Sea Trout should be approached with stronger equipment to cope with the hard fighting character of these fish. A rod of 9 - 10ft long matched with a 7 to 8 weight line is the order of the day. Floating lines are all that is really needed, using various sink tips to gain depth. Leaders should not go below 6lb for the Sea Trout and 8lb for the Salmon. During spate conditions 10lb is recommended. A net is a must due to the large size of these fish, (hopefully!) A Gye net with shoulder strap is ideal. Expect Sea Trout in the 2 - 6lb region and Salmon going into double figures.

For Salmon, Flies should include not much more than Regular and Silver Stoats tails. This is a fantastic pattern which can be fished in mostwater conditions other than full spate. A good supply in size 14 - 8low water doubles is ample and don't forget a few tube versions in 1 - 2 inch. When it is mucky the Willie Gunn is superb in similar sizes, although it would be sensible to carry a few larger, say a 6 in hook and 2 1/2 inch in tube. Various other patterns such as the Allies Shrimp will also catch but the Stoat and Gunn are well proven.

Sea Trout are not Salmon ! Many anglers fish for this species as they would it's elder cousin. However, leaders need to be finer, flies smaller and the places fished, chosen with care. Slow deep pools will often yield a Sea Trout by day (yes they can be caught by day!!!) and during the hours of nightfall try the tails and throat of well known pools. These pools are easily found with some careful reconnaissance in local hostelries! The Stoats tail in small sizes such as 14 - 12 low water doubles will do some damage, but also try the Alexandra, Teal Blue and Silver and by day a selection of Nymphs from 12 - 8. GH Hares Ears are often snapped up!

A small Moorland Brown Trout

River Conditions

For up to date information on river conditions contact Rivercall on 0906 619 7766 (South West Region)

General Information.

The Salmon season runs from 1st March until 30th September.
The Trout season from 15th March through to 30th September.
However, there are local bye laws in operation so do double check the information regarding your chosen venue.

Expect to pay from GBP £3 - £15 for Trout Fishing and £20 - £50 for migratory fish. It is the law that all anglers carry an E.A. Rod licence valid for the species they intend to catch. There is a hefty fine for anyone found not to be in possession of a current licence! The rod licence is easily obtained from any Post Office and various options including day, week and year are available. A rodlicence does not entitle the holder to fish anywhere, merely to use a rod on an inland watercourse. Always obtain a permit before starting to fish a chosen venue, this saves embarrassment and possible prosecution.

It is not true that all licence holders can fish anywhere in the National Park!

Conservation has helped Salmon stocks to recover, it is an on going process and all who fish Exmoor can help. Keep to fish limits where applicable, and check size rules. Any fish that are not to be kept should be carefully returned to the water allowing plenty of time for them to revive. Where possible always use barbless or de barbed hooks.
Similar measures should also be practiced when handling Trout. 

Should the worst happen and you spot a pollution incident quick reactions could save many fish, invertebrates and other animals who rely on the river. 
Call the emergency hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

Lakes / Reservoirs / Small Stillwaters

There are a good number of these throughout the region. Species include Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout and at some fisheries unusual varieties such as the Blue and Tiger Trout. There are Day permits available which are often self service from a kiosk on site. Venues from 2 acres to 385 are to be found, some providing boat fishing.

Tackle should be as for most other lakes, 9 - 10ft rod, 7 weight lines of varying densities, leaders of 6lbs or so and a net. Flies need not be complicated and favourite patterns would be : Black and Peacock, Hares Ear, Buzzers, Mini Lures and Hoppers or Bobs Bits. Most food which these fish expect to see is of dark colouration so opt for blacks and browns. Beware, especially when Boat Fishing, that the climate of Exmoor is prone to extreme and sudden changed! Always wear a buoyancy aid.

Seasons vary enormously, with many of the small venues open all year. As a rule of thumb most reservoirs on Exmoor open during March and close in October. Once again a rod licence is compulsory.

CLATWORTHY RESERVOIR.  MAP ST043313  12m from Taunton in Brendon Hills; 130 acres brown and rainbow trout; fly only; 2¼m bank fishing. Season Mar 25-Oct 18. Tel: 01984 623549.

WIMBLEBALL LAKE  MAP SS967301  Near Dulverton. 374 acres. South West Lakes Trust, fly only, well-known stocked rainbow trout fishery. Season March 25 -Oct 31, boats including wheely boat for disabled available. Dt £18.50, boats £11, tickets from self-service kiosk at Hill Farm Barn.

HORNER WATER. On National Trust Holnicote Estate, Selworthy MAP  TA24 8TJ upstream from Packhorse Bridge, Horner, to Pool Bridge, approx 2¼m; fly fishing, small wild trout. Dt £1 from Horner Tea Garden.


Bass and Pollack are to be found in many areas in and around Exmoor. It is possible to hook these using conventional heavy Trout gear and streamer style flies incorporating silver / white. Sizes should be 10 -6 longshank in most circumstances. Try various rock marks, estuaries and harbours on a rising tide. Mullet also fall to the fly, but are very difficult. Dries, Nymphs and patterns to look like Bread! or Maggots! will work with patience.
Pay particular attention to Harbours and tidal rivers.  Best of all, many locations are FREE and there is no need for a rod licence!

So while taking in the relaxing atmosphere of Exmoor why not try and outwit a fish or two ? My perfect holiday would be a day or two on the Exe for Wild Brown Trout, followed by a spot of Sea Trouting on the Lyn and a session boat fishing Wimbleball. Of course the grand finale would be a trip to the coast!"

Nick Hart


Internet links

Dulverton Angling Association:
Fly fishing on the Barle and Exe
Lance Nicholson

Get Hooked:
excellent directory for South West anglers

Fish South West:
Coarse fishing guide and directory

SW Lakes Trust:
Lakes and Reservoirs for trout