How to get hooked on fly fishing

A beginner’s guide to tackling fly fishing for the first time

Does fly fishing conjure images of mighty rivers, stunning countryside and adventurous mavericks? If so, then it is time for you to give it a go. If, however, fly fishing makes you think of dank watersides, driving rain and deluded fools flushing away precious time, then please hear me out, because you still need to try it.

I have been fishing for as long as I can remember – from childhood holidays (mostly not) catching mullet on bits of bread off Mediterranean jetties, to adulthood (still mostly not) catching brown trout and grayling on the glorious river Test. It’s never too late to get started and here’s how…

Where to go

First let me dispel the notion that you need to live on a remote Scottish glen to take up fly fishing. Or, for that matter, that you have to board a flight to the tropics or the Arctic circle. I live in Hackney and I can fly fish to my heart’s content – well as much as family life and work allows me. Britain is brimming with great spots to fish. As for where exactly, the key here is to think local and get a conversation going. Do you have friends who fish? Do you have a nearby fishery? Do you know where your nearest tackle shop is? Now call them up or just turn up. The following magical phrase will open all sorts of doors: ‘I am a complete beginner and I need some help’. I guarantee you will be blown away by the support and encouragement you get. Orvis, with its national network of stores, offer free, in-store introductory lessons. If you would rather get on the water right away, or as the next stop after an introductory lesson, I would advise easily accessible riverbanks – the kind that don’t require wading. Or you could try a small stocked still water. Some, such as Thornwood Springs Trout Fishery, just outside London, have a specific beginners area where you are about as guaranteed to get a fish as you would be at a fishmonger.

A perfect spot for fishing on the Test

Lessons

Next I would think about a one-on-one lesson. My casting leapt ahead by a full decade with my first half-hour private lesson. Check out the Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructor’s website for an instructor close to where you live. Courses are also available for a day, or better still you could even stay over for a night or two. I recently had my first go at grayling fishing on the River Test and at Orvis’s Kimbridge fishery, which offers a variety of beginners and family courses.

Tackle

If there is one thing that gets a fly fisher even more excited than the sight of a trout engulfing their fly, it’s a tackle shop full of lovely shiny new kit. A word of warning: there is a lot of equipment you can buy for fly fishing. Let me confess, I have been guilty of being a ‘tackle tart’. But fear not, you can get started with a relatively small selection of kit. Many waters will lend or rent you gear as you make your first outings, but once you are ready for the next step then a basic set up should be achievable for less than £100. Again get talking to your local tackle shop – you will need a rod, reel, net and lines. The more budget conscious will find plenty of value with ‘combos’ by Snowbee, Shakespeare and Airflo and for great flies try Grando. If you want to spend a bit more, or if you feel ready to commit to the longer term, Orvis do fly rods that are perfect for beginners, starting at £169. As well as getting you started they will do a great job for years to come.

Jem Packer with a catch of the day

Clothing

As an unapologetic Londoner I was a latecomer to the world of technical clothing and specialist outdoor apparel. For far too long I fished in jeans and trainers. I finally worked out that wringing out socks and hanging them up to dry by the pub fire was not the normal end to a day’s fishing. To start with wear your warmest winter clothes for all but the hottest months, as you will always feel cooler on the water. Layer up, and as a minimum wear a waterproof coat and ideally waterproof trousers. If I was going to buy one item to start with it would be a decent pair of wellies. Oh yes, and always pack strong sun block – while temperatures are lower on the water, the sun, reflected by the water, is stronger.

So that’s it. You’ve found a venue, you’ve booked a lesson and you are wearing warm clothing – what’s stopping you? Go and get ‘em, tiger!

But before you go, a couple of do’s and don’ts…

Do

Claim your fishing is more than just a hobby. These are life skills that will see you and your family fed through the apocalypse, the rebirth of mankind and a further apocalypse.

Quote the line: ‘A bad day’s fishing is better than a good day at the office.’ Even if you are soaked to the skin, suffering from early onset hypothermia and have zero chance of catching anything.

Don’t

Take a cheesy picture holding up any fish that could fit in the plastic bags which hold the goldfish that kids win at funfairs.

Ask fellow fly fishers if they are, ‘having any luck?’ Luck has nothing to do with it. Never. Ever. It’s not even a factor. Got it? Thank you. You can say: ‘Any joy?’, ‘Any bites?’, ‘Anything happening?’. But please, never the ‘L’ word.

Follow Jem on Twitter @JemPacker


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