What is fly fishing? To me it’s the most artistic form of fishing. The art of presenting an imitation of a real insect in the right way, at the right time, and of the right insect is truly a challenge. There are so many things that can go wrong, or just not support your endeavours that the odds are stacked against you from the start. That’s no reason not to do it though. If anything, it makes the taste of success all the sweeter. And anyway, be serious, we don’t go fishing to catch fish!
To go fly fishing, you need some equipment. At the very least you need a rod, reel, some fly line, leader and tippet and some flies. You can acquire starter kits for a very reasonable sum but equally, once you become hooked (your first fish actually catches you!), you can, and will, ‘invest’ a lot more in your newfound passion. Other ‘must have’ equipment, in your mind at least, will include waders, wading staffs, net, priest, forceps, snips, sink and float compounds, fly boxes, waistcoats, more rods, more reels…. you get the picture!
People fish for many reasons. It is by and large a solitary pursuit where you pit yourself against the fish. It doesn’t matter that the fish invariably wins as you benefit regardless. Just getting away from the online world, your mobile phone (leave it in the car), other people (we all need a break sometimes), whilst also getting into nature and the environment, breathing clean air and being active all day are good enough reasons in themselves, but its more than that. We come from hunter gatherers. Fishing has been part of human existence for 500,000 years! It used to be a necessity, and indeed still is, but people now fish because they want to as well as having to. Its engrained in the human conscience in the same way as hunting and gathering. In a world operating at breakneck speeds a fishing trip offers an escape which can, and often does, become meditative. This isn’t to say that fishing can’t deliver an adrenaline rush and excitement. It can and does. When hooking into a fish, be it large or small, your heart misses a beat. You fear it wasn’t a bite, or worse you will lose the fish in the next second or two. If it stays on you have those heart stopping moments over the next few seconds or minutes trying to net, or beach, the struggle at the end of your line. If you are successful and do manage to land your quarry, I wager that on most occasions you will release it back into the water from whence it came. Some people simply can’t understand this, but fishermen do and that’s all that matters. If you do decide to keep it, a BBQ is often a most fitting end to a great day.
Fly fishing was always synonymous with rivers, large or small., Over the last few decades loughs and lakes have become very popular with many being created just to provide for fly fishing. However, the sea also provides exciting fly-fishing opportunities for sea trout, sea bass, pollock, and mackerel! It’s a relatively new and emerging pursuit but can be tremendously exciting.
Many loughs and lakes are termed ‘put and take’ fisheries. These are stocked for the sole intent for the fish to be caught and taken away by the angler. Rivers can also be stocked but are less likely to expect the angler to take the fish if they are caught.
To fish in any water in the UK at least two permits are required. A rod license is required to use a fishing rod. A fishing permit is required to allow the fishing of certain public waters. Commercially run facilities will require you to purchase a ticket and is priced dependent on the number of fish you plan to take away, assuming you catch any!
The majority of fly fishers in the UK fish for trout. Brown trout are the native trout of the UK and are mostly found in rivers and chalk streams. Rainbow trout aren’t native to the UK having been introduced from the USA into fish farms in the UK in the early twentieth century. It is now widespread throughout the lakes and loughs as well as rivers and is still heavily farmed for put and take fisheries. Steelhead trout are migratory brown trout and found in coastal waters. There are other species of trout in the UK which are more regional such as the Dollaghan in Northern Ireland.
A lesser known species of game fish is the Grayling, also known as the lady of the stream. It is found in small rivers and chalk streams along with brown trout.
Salmon is the king of fish. Unfortunately, the UKs stocks have declined significantly over the preceding decades but conservation work to grow the population is underway.
A fishing day
A day’s fishing starts the night before. Getting your tackle sorted from the last time you were out and didn’t ‘get around’ to it will save you time and heartache on the riverbank. Your alarm clock will go off early as early morning and mid to late evening before last light are the best times to catch fish, or so they say! Upon arrival your expectations will be high and your spirits upbeat. Getting your rod assembled, choosing your first fly and eyeing up the water will all add to the excitement. Four hours later after countless casts, snagged lines, lost flies, and your body aching you will start to fade. But then a tug. It’s a bolt of electricity that instantly takes the pain away and heightens your senses. There it is again but this time it has grabbed the fly with commitment. Your instinctive reaction strikes the fish and its on. The line tears off and without even knowing it you’re working it from the reel. You keep the rod up and just enough tension to work the fish without snapping the line. As time goes by you begin to win the battle. The fish capitulates and comes slowly to the net. Just as you prepare to scoop it in, the fish turns and flicks its powerful tail and makes a break for freedom. Maybe it succeeds, maybe it doesn’t. Get out there and find out!
Fishing is a calming influence in a world of frenetic activity. As the river meanders by your worries and stress go with it. You tune into your environment and take in natures beauty. Watching a line extend out from behind you to your front in a beautiful curling motion to land calmly on the water in the hope a fish will be taken in by your subterfuge of an imitation fly is a meditative experience. Every now and then you get lucky, but it matters not. On the odd occasion you may take the spoils of your efforts home to share with another. True pink flesh, not falsified by the supermarket, sits on your plate and tastes unlike the farmed fish you are normally forced to eat. Enjoy.