I landed the first fish that I'd ever hooked on a fly yesterday.
No, I wasn't fishing a Scottish river or an English brook - I was at Jacklands Fish Farm in Nailsea, near Bristol.
"Whaaaaaaatttt?" say the purists, "That's not fly-fishing. Trout in a puddle. Disgraceful!" Or is it?
These fish fight all the way to the net.
Let me put a different perspective on this (you can also apply the same reasoning to 'carp puddles');
Okay, so it's quite obvious through what I do that I already enjoy fishing. I have my favourite species, like many anglers, but I'm not totally single-minded. If there's a fish to be caught and I can legally catch it, I'll have a go.
But let's pretend that I'm not all that keen. In fact, I've never fished before - how would blanking feel to me? As anglers, we've all done it, I'm sure. However, we have the benefit of having days when we've had bumper catches, too (well, that's the theory). We know that you take the rough with the smooth, that things will level out over time. Also, we know what it's like to catch a fish. Now we crave the challenge and, hopefully, the battle, rather than just the possession of a fish on the bank. Because we're at ease with our sport, we are able to relax and soak up the atmosphere. We can concentrate on the fishing whilst, at the same time, observing wildlife, or even other anglers.
The novice angler doesn't have this advantage. He or she will be focussed on fishing. Failing to land a fish will be seen as failure as a future fisherman or woman, especially if the experienced anglers around catch something. All the excitement that may have built up before the session will have disappeared and have been replaced with a feeling of frustration, or even inadequacy. As anglers, we know that the novice shouldn't feel this way, but they invariably will.
Under pressure. Elton Murphy lands a trout for the camera!
This is where the highly stocked fish farm comes in to play. It's hard to blank. A person catching a fish on only their first or second outing is more likely to become an angler of the future than one who has blanked a dozen times.
My personal experience bears testament to the ease of catching at a place like Jacklands. I have never previously used a fly rod. In fact, the nearest I've ever come to fly-fishing is the odd impression of J.R. Hartley from the old Yellow Pages adverts. So, although I knew that I was going to be visiting a well-stocked water, I still wasn't sure what the outcome would be.
My instructor for the day was Robin Young, a friend whom I met on holiday last year. What got us talking in a resort in St. Kitts? Fishing, of course! We drove down to the fish farm on Sunday morning. Tania, my wife and Ailsa, Robin's wife, were also persuaded to give up their warm beds to stand around a pond in cold, windy conditions.
Following a brief period of instruction, everybody dashed for cover and I made my first cast. I wasn't exactly going to land a fly in foreign exclusion zone, but it was far enough to put a few feet between me and the end of the line. It was then a case of twitching the line back and waiting for a suicidal trout to take pity on me. This was a strange sensation for me. As a lure fisherman, my natural reaction is to use the rod to aid me in imparting action to the lure upon retrieve. Until I got used to holding the rod still and letting my fingers do the talking, the trout at Jacklands must have been mystified by the weirdest dancing fly that they had ever seen!
However, they didn't stay mystified for long and on only my second ever cast, I hooked a fish. YES! A brief battle ensued, followed by that horrible feeling that something is missing from the equation - I hadn't set the hook properly and the fish threw it. It's not hard to see how - trout don't hang around once they think something's up!
To cut a fairly short story even shorter, I landed two small trout of about 1lb and handed the rod over to Tania. Tania doesn't have much angling experience (she says she'll learn when more 5 star hotels appear on the bank!), so Robin stepped in again for some brief instruction. "This should be a laugh." I thought. Any feeling of male superiority was soon banished when she hooked, played and landed the best fish of the day so far! Okay, so she didn't want to touch the thing once it was out of the water, but she can certainly take the credit for a job well done! Had she been a friend or a child that I'd taken along at their request to introduce them to the sport, she would be well and truly hooked. As it is, she's been fishing a few times and, whilst Tania won't admit to liking the sport to the same degree as myself, this trip was one of the 'more enjoyable' ones for her. Of course, there was the time she totally outfished me for crucians, but that's a different story!
With everybody 'mentioning' that it was getting a little bit too cold for comfort, I set myself the 'one more fish' limit. A nice fish approaching the 4lb mark duly obliged and my 'manly status' was restored. Phew!
A quick lesson...
then you're on your own...
That wasn't supposed to happen!
At least the trout is aesthetically pleasing!
The purpose of the above is, hopefully, to explain to some of you that different styles of fishing and different venues suit different people better. We shouldn't knock other anglers, but accept the fact that they fish how they want and we fish how we want. There are other people who would benefit from a trout farm - it isn't exclusive to beginners. How about the 'busy' person who doesn’t have more than a few hours per week, or even per month, to go fishing? Should we lose this person to blanking and, inevitably, lose them as an angler all together, or should we accept the fact that one sort of angling suits some people better than most? And what about the angler who wants a few trout for the table? Should he or she pay money over a counter in a supermarket, or catch a few fresh ones themselves and pay a fishery owner? I know what I'd rather do (if only these fisheries would implement loyalty cards - Tania would join me every time!).
As I said at the beginning, the rationale above can be applied to any kind of fishing, especially the fishing of heavily stocked waters. Sure, I'd love to have weeks on end to spend in pursuit of specimen fish, or even to have a naturally well stocked river within easy reach of my front door, but I can understand why some people choose to fish carp and trout fisheries. You can bet your bottom dollar that they will go home with a smile on their face, something that takes long term anglers many years of practice to do after a blank.
But what about Elton Murphy and fly fishing? Well, now that I have the confidence and first hand knowledge that flies do take fish, I wouldn't mind brushing up on technique and giving my local reservoir a good thrashing!
Thanks to Jacklands Fish Farm for a great day. If you're ever in the Nailsea area of the country, give them a call on 01275 810697. They're open 7 days a week.
Also, mine and Tania's thanks go to Robin and Ailsa Young for putting up with fishing, fishing and a bit more fishing for a long weekend!