Congratulations, you have been invited fly-fishing for the first time ever!
This is a wonderfully absorbing and relaxing sport that really is far simpler to take up than you probably first imagined!
Preparation For Your First Fly Fishing Trip
If you are fishing in England or Wales, you will require an Environment Agency Rod License to legally fish. This is available online from the EA’s website or from any Post Office as well as by phone. Licenses can be for 1 day, 1 week or annual duration. It is sensible to check with your host, as it is possible that the fishery may have purchased a group license if you attending a corporate event or similar but don’t assume this is the case. There are separate licenses for non-migratory trout and migratory (Sea Trout) and Salmon. No EA license is required in Scotland.
Book a Fishing Lesson?
If you have sufficient time, do book a beginner’s casting lesson with a qualified Fly-Fishing Instructor. Instructors belonging to APGAI or GAIA professional organizations are recommended. Fly-casting is simple to learn but it is not a natural thing to do. Trying to “throw” the line out with the rod is a natural, pre-conditioned reflex action but doesn’t work. The line has to be kept in the air under tension during both the backward and forward stroke and the rod tip stopped cleanly at the right place for the rod’s energy to be transferred to the line. It’s quite simple to learn but feels wrong at first as the brain is telling you to throw. An hour with a good instructor will soon have you practicing the right technique. Try to learn without help and you risk imprinting bad technique.
It’s best to check with your host, what equipment will be provided on the day. Your local fly-fishing tackle shop can advise you on a suitable rod outfit and essential accessories like a landing net, replacement leaders, tippet, flies and fly floatant if you need to take your own equipment.
From a point of view of safety, always wear glasses when fly-fishing. A pair of brown, yellow or amber tinted polarized sunglasses is ideal as these also cut out glare from the water’s surface and help you spot fish in clear water. A peaked cap or hat is also sensible as this also helps protect your head from a miss-cast fly and protects against both rain and sunburn. The shade of the brim also stops glare from the back of your glasses, aiding your vision looking for fish.
If you are wading or fishing from a boat, always wear a lifejacket or automatic inflatable braces. These are compulsory now on many fisheries and may be available for loan, but always check first.
If wading is not necessary, waterproof boots or wellingtons are sensible as river -banks can be damp and muddy. Wear layered clothing to cope with changes in temperature during the day and preferably in drab colours to help hide your movement to the fish. Don’t worry if you don’t have anything absolutely suitable -its movement that scares fish more than anything else. Just avoid sudden movement and try to keep off the skyline.
Be sure you arrive on time. If you host has arranged for a guide or instructor to provide some basic instruction at the start of the day, you will be delaying the other guests if you arrive late. Whilst commercial operated beats are usually well signed, private waters may be accessed via farm tracks or private roads and be more difficult to find. Allow good time and make sure you have your host’s mobile number. A section of river is described as a Beat. Bigger fisheries are usually divided up into multiple beats. It is important that you only fish your allocated beat. Generally, on a lake fishery you will be able to fish where you chose, but it is always best to check first.
The role of a Ghillie or Guide
A Ghillie is someone employed by the owner of the beat to look after the Rods (visiting fishermen and fisherwomen). He also may also have responsibility for maintenance and protecting the water from poachers. Think of the Ghillie as a riverside valet, there to help you enjoy your day. Your Ghillie will be able to help you set up your rod and give advice on the correct fly choice for the conditions and help put you in the right place on the water to catch fish. Some of the larger river beats may have more than one Ghillie. A Guide is usually an independent professional who has access to a variety of waters in his or her locality and provides accompanied fishing trips. Most guides are also qualified casting instructors.
River Trout Fishing for Trout
If you are fishing a chalk stream or one of the more prolific limestone rivers, it is generally the rule that you only cast upstream. Normally you will start at the bottom of the beat and work upstream. If you encounter another angler sharing the beat, it is etiquette to ask permission before you walk behind them and try to fish the river above them. Always give the other angler plenty of room, so as not to scare their fish and pass by slowly. Generally you will be looking for rising fish or fish that can be actively seen feeding below the surface, if nymph fishing is permitted. A Dry Fly is simply a floating representation of an insect on the surface and a Nymph a sinking representation of an aquatic invertebrate on which the fish might be feeding.
On rivers with less rich invertebrate life, Wet Fly Fishing may be permitted. This involves making quartering casts downstream and allowing the current to work the flies as they swing round. This enables the angler to cover more water. Normally here you would start at the upstream end of the beat and work your way downstream. The same etiquette applies if you wish to pass another angler.
Smaller stocked fisheries are generally fished from the bank and have easy access and comfortable areas for casting. It is important to know what the rules are concerning taking or returning fish. Some fisheries may allow you to return fish to the water but many will expect you to humanely dispatch the fish you catch and take them home to eat. If this is the case, make sure you have Priest, as small, heavy club sold by tackle shops for this purpose. Trying to dispatch a fish using a piece of wood found on the riverbank or landing net handle is not acceptable or humane. It is sensible to also take a fish Bass. This is a mesh bag to keep the fish cool. Periodically immerse the bag in the water and keep it in the cool shade to keep your fish fresh.
Larger Reservoirs may be fished from a boat, and this is certainly the best way for a novice. Your host, ghillie or guide should deal with the boat handling and take you to productive areas. Make sure you have extra layers of clothing available as it is often considerably colder out on a large open expanse of water. Always wear a lifejacket or automatically inflating safety braces. Generally fishing is done on drifts. The boat is positioned upwind of the area to be covered and then allowed to drift through on the wind with the anglers making short casts. Each cast you are covering new water. This is a great way to fish for beginners. Flies are retrieved back to the boat at a speed faster than the drift to give them life or sometimes just fished static with the angler just retrieving line to stay in contact without moving the fly.
New to Salmon Fishing
Salmon fishing is usually conducted on an allocated beat. Beats are often rotated by the host or ghillie after lunch to give each rod in a party the chance to fish different stretches of river and give everyone a fair chance of catching a fish. Salmon rest up on their upstream migration in pools or lies. These positions will change with different heights of water. A good ghillie will know exactly where the fish are likely to hold at a given level and his advice as to where to cast the fly is highly valuable to a beginner. Running fish will often just take a short “breather” behind or in front of a specific rock or obstruction on the river bed. Fishing is normally wet fly fishing, swinging the flies around in the current downstream to impart life and only retrieving when fishing slack water.
The lower, warmer and clearer the water, the smaller the fly generally used. The higher, colder and more turbid the water, the bigger the fly generally used but as with all aspects of fly-fishing, there are some exceptions. In warmer conditions, the salmon will rise up and take the fly close to the surface and a floating line is used but in the spring and autumn or in high water a sink tip or sinking line is required. On the bigger rivers, a longer, two handed rod is normally chosen as it gives more reach for controlling the line once it is on the water. Spey casting techniques are popular, as they enable a quick change of direction, give protection from the fly hitting the angler and require less room behind to execute. A lesson from a good instructor is highly recommended. Shooting head Spey Lines like the Rio AFS also help make casting easier for the beginner. Wading is often necessary to get into the best position to control and present the fly properly to the fish. Always wear an inflatable collar and use a wading staff to give yourself extra support and test the river bed depth ahead of you.
Many salmon are now returned alive to the river to help preserve stocks and different rivers have different rules as to what can and cannot be kept. You host will explain what can be kept. Always have your camera with you, so that you don’t miss out on recording that first ever fish!
Generally there is a break for lunch, perhaps a visit to a local Inn (change of footwear may be needed!) or picnic lunch in a fishing hut or on the bank. Check with your host and ask if you need to bring a packed lunch with you. On salmon rivers, the ghillie or host will often rotate the rods to fish different water in the afternoon.
The End of the Day
On many fisheries it is customary to fill in a return card or log with your catch for the day. Facilities are often provided for the weighing of fish. This helps the fishery plan future stocking and provide a historical record of catches. It is etiquette to tip your ghillie or guide if you have had a good day. The size of the tip should reflect the effort made to help you enjoy your day, rather than just fish caught. Sometime a blank day can just as much fun, as one on which lots of fish are banked. Your host will be pleased to give guidance on the amount. Finally, don’t forget to send a letter of thanks to your host within a day or so.
We would like to thank Richard Banbury of Orvis who wrote this article.
If you would like to book fly fishing lessons we can highly recommend Orvis for further information click here.