Try a different way of fishing - you might just fly

First a confession. What I know about fly fishing could be written on the back of a stamp. Yes, I have had a go, I even possess a fly rod, but am I a fly fisherman? The answer is currently a resounding no.

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 11:15 am
Mike Kitchener with a sea trout caught from the Rother

Some years ago, I had a lesson at a well-known local fly fishery. The expert, a wonderful chap from that great angling company Hardy’s, gave me a lesson in casting.

I knew about casting a float but casting a fly was a whole new ball game.

Whisking the fly rod backwards and forwards with a well-honed wrist action he was able to land the fly, effectively a piece of feather and tinsel with an added hook, and land it right in front of a passing trout. If the trout failed to take the ‘bait’ and carried on its watery path, he simply repeated the process until the fish couldn’t resist any more.

The best analogy I can think of for the non-angler was like watching a top darts player consistently hit the treble 20.

Fly fishing has suffered in the past from a certain aloofness. Often seen as the pursuit of the wealthy, many of the most famous trout streams are virtually a no-go zone for us mere mortals, unless of course you know the right people, have deep pockets or have wealthy Scottish ancestors.

At Petworth and Bognor AC we have a large stretch of our own chalk stream – the Rother – and you won’t need to rob a bank to fish it.

Fly fishing certainly is a marvellous way of continuing fishing a river. From March 15 all river fishing has been into its annual lockdown. Those anglers wanting to continue hunting barbel and chub or even trot a float for dace and roach have to stop, go home and sulk for three months until the glorious date of June 16.

Yes, they could, by a strange quirk of the law, fish a pond or lake where there is no close season, but it seems... once a river man always a river man.

Very few realise they could continue to fish the river only a couple of weeks later when the game season opens on the April 3 and learn a new skill at the same time.

Fundamentally, fly fishing is fairly simple and involves very little equipment. You will need a fly rod, a reel that holds the thick casting line and a selection of artificial flies but that is about all.

You can use your existing landing net and tie your fly with normal monofilament line. You can also use your current rod licence to catch trout but if you’re fortunate enough to fish a salmon river a new licence is required.

Casting, as mentioned, is the tricky part and practice is recommended unless you want to spend your time extracting hooks from trees, bushes or even yourself.

The fish you are after is the wily native brown trout or the introduced rainbow trout.

Wild trout won’t be big, a fish of 1lb is a nice fish, but it will fight like crazy. There is something magical about watching your fly nestle on the surface and make its way down river letting the current chart its path.

Eagle eyed, you watch this tiny bit of fluff ready to strike at a moment’s notice as the fish rises to suck in the lure.

Of course, there is a lot more to consider, certainly more than this article can cover. Key questions are what fly to use, and whether it should float on the surface (known as dry) or sink (wet). Should it resemble the insects or bugs that are around at the time such as the infamous ‘duffers fortnight’ when May flies emerge and allegedly any fool can catch a trout?

Trout are very predatory and will attack anything. But fishing the Rother doesn’t automatically mean it will be a trout. Many fish take surface baits. You’re just as likely to find a chub or dace on the end of your line.

If you’re lucky it could be the grayling, one of the river’s most beautiful fish or even a large migratory sea trout many of which enter the Arun and then into the Rother.

One of our members has also caught minnows which must take the reflexes of a cat.

In recent times fly fishing has progressed to look at other species. Casting big sinking lures on strong tackle is an exciting way to catch pike, which on a fly rod give a spectacular fight and the latest craze is fly fishing for carp.

This was quite logical as surface fishing bread or dog biscuits in the summer for carp is extremely effective.

Is it fly fishing? Probably not and purists will certainly shake their head in disbelief. For them that pretty chalk stream on a warm spring evening with mother nature bursting into life all around is the only way to go, and who would dispute that?

Steve Penticost

Petworth and Bognor AC