Choosing a Club
FROM the angler’s viewpoint, the map of Britain shows an enormous amount of water. There are countless rivers, streams, lakes, lochs and reservoirs which hold good stocks of fish. However, although no general or national licence is as yet necessary to fish for trout, sea trout and salmon, it is not a free-for-all. Some of the water is privately owned or managed by hotels; some is controlled by River Boards and some by local clubs and associations. Fishing rights, in the interests of preservation, are closely guarded. Free fishing, in the sense that anyone may put up a rod and cast a fly, is the exception rather than the rule. However, it is not a closed shop – far from it. Permits – daily, weekly, monthly or for the whole season – are available in many areas and are easily obtained from most clubs and associations who welcome visitors. The cost of such permits depends largely on local conditions and on the type of fishing. Salmon permits, for example, are invariably much more expensive than those for trout fishing.
To obtain regular fishing at a reasonable cost, it is by far the best plan to try to join a club. You can usually find the address of the secretary from the local tackle dealer and get the details without trouble. Take out a day ticket if you can and go out to see if the waters afford the kind of fishing you think you would enjoy. Some people prefer river fishing, others like lake fishing. Talk to the other anglers. Find out what sort of fish there are, the closed season, which are the best times of the year and what kind of tackle and flies are used. Angling has become such a popular sport in recent years that pressure on membership is often very heavy and, in some places, you may have to wait until a club vacancy occurs. Don’t worry about this. You can usually take out day tickets for other types of fishing water and so gain valuable experience while you are waiting.
Finding out what fishing is available over the whole country presents no problem. Where to Fish, a well-known book published by The Field, lists the regional rivers, lakes and lochs of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in considerable detail. As well as listing hotels, types of fishing, costs and giving useful hints, it includes the address of almost every angling club in the British Isles. A second book, Where to Fish in Scotland, is published by the Scottish Tourist Board and covers virtually every water in Scotland. These publications, which include maps, are invaluable if you are wondering where you may fish, what it is likely to cost you, or where you might take a fishing holiday. The Irish Tourist Board supplies pamphlets and guides to waters and accommodation in Eire, where inexpensive and plentiful fishing is attracting increasing numbers of holiday fly-fishers.
The cost of joining a club varies very considerably. Some associations offer very cheap fishing to local residents; other clubs with their own waters may charge something in the region of fifteen guineas a season. Make sure before you apply that you are going to get the kind of fishing you want.
Nowadays, if you are not a club member, it is not always possible to turn up and expect to obtain a day ticket without booking in advance. This is particularly true at weekends and where boats are available for hire. Again, the number of rods permitted on a water may be strictly limited, so that it is advisable to book several days, sometimes several weeks, beforehand if you want to be sure of a rod on a particular day. This means, of course, that you must take pot luck with the weather and have clothing suitable for good or bad conditions. If you can’t plan your outings so far ahead, use the telephone. In fact, the telephone is the angler’s friend. You can often book a boat or a rod without bothering to write – and find out the night before you go what conditions are like and which flies have been taking.
The amount of salmon fishing in this country is limited and association waters may be crowded at the best times of the year. Hotels offer fishing to guests on a rota system under which the beats are changed over daily – sometimes twice a day. Many anglers form syndicates, three or four individuals joining together to rent a private beat for a week or a month at a time. When the cost is divided up, it is reasonable for the quality of sport which is afforded. Agents who handle salmon beats often advertise in the angling press. Taking a beat, of course, is always a gamble, as success depends largely on sufficient water and a run of fish. On many rivers, March and April, when the water is swollen with melting snow, provide the best opportunities for spring fish. Other rivers have an autumn run, and there October and November may be the best times. Agents normally provide figures which indicate how many fish have been caught in each month during past seasons. These figures will give you a good indication of the sport you may reasonably expect. Naturally, the best months are the most expensive.
Many European countries also afford excellent facilities for the visiting fisherman. Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and Czechoslovakia all offer good trout fishing, whilst Norway is famous for its sea trout and salmon. Each country publishes tourist information which can be obtained from the various National Tourist Offices. British firms also offer angling holidays in well known fishing resorts with everything laid on. There is no end to the places you can go and the types of fishing you can sample and enjoy. Contrary to the expectations of some anglers, however, there is no spot where fish just give themselves up. You will only be able to take full advantage of new opportunities when you have learned the elements of fly fishing in this country.
The Closed Season
The statutory close times for salmon and trout fishing in the British Isles are: Salmon: November 1st until January 1st; Trout: October 1st until February 28th, October 8th until March 15th in Scotland.
These dates are subject to alteration and local boards and clubs impose their own regulations to suit local conditions. Trout, for example, are seldom worth fishing for before the beginning of April. Some waters – usually those stocked with rainbow trout only – may be fished in October and November. In each individual case, you must seek precise information as to the closing and opening dates from the appropriate River Board or club.
Fly-tying is the most popular winter activity of many keen anglers, and some local authorities include the subject in their list of evening classes. These, if available, are very much worthwhile attending. Other classes often include instruction in rod-making, in maintenance and in angling in general.
Angling clubs usually have a wide social round in winter. Dinners, dances and general get-togethers are all part of the picture. Trophies and prizes for competitions are presented at meetings which you are sure to enjoy.
In recent years, a number of angling schools have started up in various parts of the country. The courses, extending over a weekend or a week, cover all the theoretical aspects of angling combined with practical instruction in casting, angler’s knots, river and reservoir fishing. The fees are very moderate, the accommodation good and, in a pleasant atmosphere, the talk is all of fish and fishing.
Separate courses are available for trout or salmon fishing; still others in the Scottish Highlands concentrate on sea trout and some are offered for boys over the age of twelve. Tackle can be hired on the spot. There is, perhaps, no more painless way of being introduced to fly fishing than by attending one of these schools. Ask your local tackle dealer for details. Brochures about the courses are usually available.
SOME thirty odd years ago, as a very small boy, I was given an ancient greenheart rod, a well-used line and a dozen assorted flies. From the moment my hand closed round the butt, I was a convert to fly fishing but still very far from being a fly-fisher. With no book to guide me and without adequate instruction, I spent a whole season in fruitless endeavour. Finally, on a beautiful summer evening in late August, I hooked, played and landed my first fish on fly. I can remember the panting excitement with which I ran all the way home with my precious catch. And although the pursuit of fish commonly taken on fly – salmon, sea trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, grayling and char – has taken me into all parts of the British Isles and to many other countries, from above the Arctic Circle to below the Equator, and from great rivers to the tournament casting platform, I have never forgotten the thrills of that first fish nor the frustrating weeks it cost me to catch it.
In the last decade there has been an astonishing growth in the popularity of fly fishing. It seems to reflect a need in today’s complex society for a pastime which can be pursued in natural and beautiful surroundings; for an outdoor activity which continues to afford a challenge from boyhood well into the retirement years; for a sport which offers enduring excitements not only at all ages but at all levels of performance, from beginner to expert. This is precisely what fly fishing has provided for me. You may not be as young as I was in starting to fish. It is of no consequence. Fly fishing offers rich rewards whether you are seven or seventy.
Much of the fascination of the sport lies in the fact that it is not one activity but an amalgam of many. It soon stimulates the newcomer into seeking relevant information from the teeming life of our countryside. It permits him to speculate and to experiment with his own ideas. It provides him with innumerable sidelines with which he may idly potter or which he -may pursue in depth. The possibilities and goals are limitless.
Fly fishing, as you will soon discover, is not a science but a craft. Far from being hard to master, the basic principles are comparatively easy to grasp. Indeed, unlike me, you may be catching fish on your first outing. But catching fish is only a start. You may discover, perhaps to your surprise, that fish eventually become secondary and that it is the way of life which exerts the true appeal.
The purpose of this website is to encourage you to pick up a rod and make your first cast. In doing so, you will enter into a new relationship with every stretch of water in the country and with every other man who casts a fly. If you are like me, you will find in them a source of endless pleasure and satisfaction.