From the age of 12 to the birth of our first-born I was a regular visitor to trout fisheries. I was a member of an angling club on the River Ribble and a member of a syndicate with fishing on the North Tyne. My job took me across the UK and I always get a fly-fishing outfit in the back of my car to sample the local fisheries wherever I was. When not working I spent many an hour trying to entice a trout, sea trout or salmon with an artificial fly. I never thought a day would come where I had to consider returning to fly fishing.
Parenthood ruined my fishing
Becoming a Dad changed all that.
The chances of a quick cast on the way back from work disappeared. Evenings were taken up with homework, kids swimming lessons and domestic chores. My once free weekends became a mad rush to kid’s football matches, children’s parties and other family-oriented days out. Over a decade my beloved fishing tackle gradually became nudged towards the back of the garage. I managed to get out maybe once a year to met up with old pals on the banks of a trout fishery to relive old times and maintain relationships with fishing friends. Membership was relinquished, syndicates abandoned and I made do with an occasional day-long fishing license.
I did not miss fly fishing. Or I thought I did not.
Fly Fishing and Covid-19
All that changed on Wednesday 13th May 2020. After months of lockdown, trapped in the house with my family, save for a trip to the shops or essential work, fishing suddenly became one of the few pastimes that families could enjoy. The UK Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy stated that:
‘People may exercise outside as many times each day as they wish,’ the document states, ‘For example, this would include angling and tennis.’
The announcement form Boris made me sit bolt-upright. Fishing suddenly provided an avenue for households to get out in the fresh air. With two boys aged 9 and 11 a day’s fly fishing was a real alternative to Fortnite and the PlayStation 4.
Fly Fishing with the family
After selling in the concept of a fishing trip the boys were up for it. First came a trip to Marton Heath Fly fishery in Cheshire with my oldest. After trying to teach him how to cast he started to get the hang of it. Within an hour we had flies in the water. I managed to hook four on a Kate Mclaren. Each time I gave the rod to him to play the fish, land it and then safely return it to the water. He got to experience the thrill of fly fishing and the joy of landing a decent trout on the bank.
The day was a success. My older lad was now keen to know more about different flies and was keen to practice his fly casting in the back garden.
The younger one was not so thrilled after his first fly fishing trip, this time to Bessy Beck in Cumbria. Perhaps 9 is a little young to enjoy standing around for a full day. He picked up the basics of fly casting and managed to hook and land a fish on his own.
Other fly-fishing trips soon followed. As Covid-19 restrictions abated the three of us returned to Marton Heath and Bessy Beck, catching on both visits. We were given guest tickets to Hallington Reservoir and spent a day at Sweethope Loughs fly fishing in Northumberland. They both enjoyed a day fly fishing in Lancashire at Pennine Fishery.
After this flurry of fly-fishing trips things have changed in our house. Whereas my youngest insists that spending a day thrashing the water is boring my oldest is now a keen fly fisherman.
Angling and children’s education
With the teachers on permanent holiday, home schooling the new normal and homework a thing of the past, returning to fly fishing has had far reaching benefits for my children. By experiencing this wonderful pastime both boys have benefited in a number of ways:
- Science: After being persuaded to get a ‘killing ticket’ the lads loved my amateur anatomy lesson. Far from being squeamish they are comfortable with gutting and cleaning fish. They have been able to see what goes on inside a living creature and are familiar with the major organs in a Rainbow Trout. They won’t get a lesson like that at school.
- Conservation: I’m an ardent catch and release fisherman when it comes to native species or wild fish. By explaining the difference to the kids they’ve become aware of the need to preserve wild fish stocks and the issues our sport faces due to pollution and over-fishing.
- Entomology: Our garden pond provided a great way to demonstrate the different stages of fly life. By showing different fishing flies and the need to mimic the behavior of natural flies the boys have more appreciation of insect life.
- Achievement: The boys know how to cast, a skill that will last for life. They have the sense of achievement you get from choosing a fly, presenting it effectively, hooking a trout and landing your quarry.
- Patience: In a time when Fortnite games start every few minutes and Amazon delivers your orders within 24 hours it can be difficult to teach the need to be patient to two young boys. Their ‘want it now’ attitude fostered by modern life is now diluted after spending multiple 8-hour sessions changing tactics and waiting for the next take.
Returning to fly fishing
As we leave summer behind, and Covid-19 starts to spread with greater intensity across the UK By returning to fly fishing I’ve been able to fall back in love with a sport that I love. It has now become a family activity we can all enjoy (My wife loves the peace and quiet at home when we’re fly fishing).
I’m now itching for my next fishing trip. The tackle is pride of place near the front of the shed. One of the boys is reading ‘Fly Fishing for Trout’ by Bob Church and Peter Gathercole.
The eldest insisted on a new fly-fishing outfit for his birthday. After learning the basics with a mid-1980’s Shakespeare Sigma Graphite Fly Rod, a vintage Leeds Rimfly Fly Reel and a reel-memory-ridden 35-year-old Airflo floating line he was desperate for his own kit. Thankfully a great price on the Guideline Stoked Fly Fishing outfit from John Norris meant a great quality gift, at a good price, that should last a lifetime. We’re now on the waiting list for the Prince Albert Angling Society in the hope that as members we can get to experience some of Britain’s most beautiful rivers in 2021 and beyond.
If it wasn’t for Boris, and the response to the easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions none of this would have happened. In a mad year like no other there’s a small corner of England with a new appreciation for nature, new skills and a new pastime that my family can enjoy.