Fly-fishing is an accessible, and surprisingly adventurous, sport for all, says John Kelley.
The saying goes that “if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. For those new to fishing it may be hard to see its allure, but trust me when I say that the draw of fishing is much like the take on the line: it’s like a lightning bolt and before you know it, you’re hooked. The pursuit can be relentless. Sometimes you’ll catch every species under the sun and other times you’ll have nothing to show for your time on the riverbank. However, there are millions of anglers in the UK (and worldwide) who are yet to be deterred by a few bad days. Quite simply because the good days outweigh them all.
I started coarse fishing on local lakes and rivers whilst at school, but was introduced to fly fishing by an Italian uncle who took me trout and salmon fishing in the UK. My son, Fergus, has even inherited my passion, or should I say my obsession, for fly fishing. The romantic idea of hunting fish in remote destinations has been a powerful element of our involvement in the sport. We are definitely happiest with a fly rod in hand. Last year, we made the decision to launch the first ever London Fly Fishing Fair and we haven’t looked back. Desperately keen on all forms of fly fishing and, having travelled the world chasing trout, salmon, bonefish, tarpon, tiger fish, golden dorado and giant trevally on the fly, we felt there was no real focus in London for this amazing sport. As an exhibition organizer by trade, it was an easy step to start what I hope will become one of the capital’s main fishing attractions.
Travel and adventure is a huge part of what makes fly fishing so exciting but it’s easy to forget how many amazing places there are to fly fish right on our doorstep. One of the main reasons why fly fishing in the UK is so extraordinary is because that’s where the art of the sport was born. Many believe that chalk stream dry fly fishing is the ultimate fishing experience and the prime beats of these rivers are highly coveted. It’s all about the heritage and the tradition of the sport.
I count myself very lucky to be surrounded by so many people who love fishing almost as much as I do. A friend of mine, Andy, has a beat on the River Test and I often head to Timsbury or the River Avon in Hampshire for wild brown trout during the Mayfly season. The River Thurso is another spot that is extremely close to my heart. It was here that I caught my first ever salmon. Maurice Murphy, my Scottish ghillie, gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me all these years, “you’ll nee ketch a fish with ure flee oot tha wat’r”. Simple yet effective!
My other worldly and most memorable adventures have taken me to Bolivia, where I set my sights on the exhilarating Golden Dorado. Their impressive power and aggression is almost unmatched in any other fish. Pursuing these beautiful creatures, particularly after rainfall, is something I will remember forever – not to mention the effect on my arm muscles. More memorable still was when we were engulfed by a wild storm and completely cut off by floodwater. Having also been tipped out of a canoe and breaking a number of precious fly rods in the process, it did make me hanker for some light English rain.
For those looking to start stalking fish further afield, I would seriously recommend hunting down tigerfish on the Mnyera and the Ruhudji rivers in Tanzania. The remote Kilombero Valley in south central Tanzania is a world apart; impossibly and wonderfully untamed – an absolute contrast to the manicured banks of the River Test. In Tanzania, the threat of the wild is never far away. Fergus even managed to hook his fly in the back of a hippo’s head! We retreated pretty quickly after that.
I travelled to Mongolia for a guided float trip last year, which was unbelievable. We went in search of taimen: the ultimate mega-trout. These impressive creatures live for nearly fifty years and taimen caught on the fly generally measure anything up to 1 metre. In Mongolia only a handful of people can fish for the elusive taimen and gaining access to fishing licenses isn’t always easy, but seriously worthwhile if you’re determined enough. With a strict catch and release policy, here it’s more about being sustainable and preserving the environment. It’s not how much money you have as these opportunities are limited to small numbers of tourists. Always keen to blend in with the locals, I even took to wearing local dress.
My extensive travels have shown me just how many opportunities are available to fishermen and women, whatever your ability. What’s more, the fishing community is so keen on preserving the sport for years to come that fishing enthusiasts are always championing the next generation of fly fishers, like Marina Gibson (Orvis Brand Ambassador), Damon Valentine (The London Fly Fisher) and James Stokoe (winner of BBC 2’s Earth’s Wildest Waters: The Big Fish). I’ve seen this first hand in people like Charles Jardine, who runs Fishing 4 Schools (which offers young people the opportunity to discover the joy of fishing in a fun and proactive way) and brands like Orvis, which hosts a series of free Learn to Fly Fish sessions each year as part of its nationwide tuition programme.
If you’re a beginner, the advice I’d give is to seek professional guidance from the start so you don’t pick up bad habits. Once you’ve found your feet at a local fishery, and you’ve honed the all-important “10 and 2” casting techniques, then you’re better prepared for the more challenging chalkstreams. Patience and tenacity is also key. As a newcomer, it’s also important to remember that fishing is an inclusive sport. At The London Fly Fishing Fair, we want to highlight that fly fishing isn’t elitist – it’s accessible to everyone. On top of everything else, fishing brings about the possibility for travel with friends and family, teaches you about the importance of conservation and preserving the sport for the future and, ultimately, provides some of the most memorable experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime.
For newcomers looking to learn what the sport of fly-fishing is all about there are a wealth of opportunities across the UK at your disposal.
Chalkstream Fly Fishing
Orvis is one of the leading fly fishing outfitters in the world, specialising in tuition, kit and sporting adventures across the UK and also worldwide. Now in its 6th year, Orvis’ free store-based fly fishing tuition programme kicks off on Saturday 11th March and is dedicated to introducing fly-fishing to new audiences, across the UK.
The “Ginger Beer” beat at Kimbridge is Orvis’ flagship piece of the Test. A third of a mile long, the productive beat provides interesting shallows and a bubbling top pool. The fishing is for brown and rainbow trout using up–stream dry fly and nymph. Salmon and sea trout can be caught but must be released. If you can’t face going cold turkey during the autumn and winter months, Kimbridge also offers exceptional grayling fishing.
The Angling Trust works to develop programmes with clubs to increase participation, particularly amongst groups who have yet to discover the joys of going fishing. It protects the rights of all anglers to do what they love most.
Thornwood Springs Fishery
Thornwood Springs Trout Fishery is a complex of lakes and pools all dedicated purely to fly fishing. The lakes are spring fed and crystal clear water all year, suitable for stalking due to the clarity.
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