There’s something special about your first fish and for each and every one of us, it’s memory that will never fade. First roach? First barbel? First grayling? The first species you ever specifically and successfully targeted? The list goes on. But what about first river trout on the fly?
If you’re one of the many still to experience this ‘holy grail’ it’s probably more within reach than at any time before. Gone are the days when casting a fly to a rising river trout was a privilege for the few. Accessibility abounds so what better time to broaden your horizons? Perhaps you’ve already succeeded in catching trout on a still water, but never tried the moving stuff?
Whatever your angling experience, there can be no doubt there’s something especially romantic about outwitting a wary river trout in its natural environment through your own observation and the imitation of its food source. It’s certainly true that these fish do have a liking for a worm or a few maggots but generally speaking ‘coarse fishing’ for them is not the done thing (nor indeed allowed in most accredited stretches) and anyway, harmonising with nature and fooling wild trout with an artificial version of the ‘plat du jour’ is something very special.
But if you’ve never done it before, where on earth do you start? Before anything else, check the seasons for river trout because local bylaws mean they vary across the country. Information on when you can fish is an important first step. But then what?
Where To Fish
“The internet is going to be your best friend,” says Ceri Thomas, a Welsh river expert and the Marketing Manager for Fishing In Wales and the Angling Trust.
“Have a look at stuff like The Fishing Passport. It’s a fantastic portfolio of venues to fish and it is simplicity itself. You can use the various options to find a river beat and you can easily book and pay for a selected day. It’s very easy for people to find rivers to fish.
“You can always find a little angling club where there’ll be people to help and particularly here in Wales, most of the river fishing is through angling clubs. So The Fishing In Wales website brings all that together with links to further, individual websites.”
“It can be done relatively cheaply,” says Ceri. “You can get some outfits that come with a reel and fly line for £60/70. You might need some thigh waders, perhaps a scoop net and then general bits and pieces including flies, extra leaders, stuff like that. Realistically, for about £200 I reckon you could get everything you need for river fly fishing on a budget. If I had to choose a general outfit that would be the closest to being able to fly fish almost any river, I would suggest a 9’ 4-weight to get started.”
As with any form of angling, you have to get your offering to where the fish are. But casting a fly requires a basic technique that some believe they’re never destined to grasp. Some fly fishers see it as an art form, others as nothing more than a necessary motion that puts a fly on the water. Either way, the rudiments of fly casting are within reach for anyone.
Check out this basic casting tutorial on Fishing Buzz from ORVIS instructor Pete Kutzer.
So you have your venue, you have your tackle and you can cast a fly onto the water. What next? We asked Ceri and fellow fly fishing experts, Alex Jardine, and Pete Tyjas to each provide their advice for those in search of their first-ever river trout.
Alex Jardine – Angling Trust Ambassador and Fly Fishing Guide
“It’s a good idea to go on your first trips with someone who knows what they’re doing. Whether that’s a friend or an accredited coach or guide, there is always a better chance of catching your first fish alongside someone who knows the river and can get you closer to understanding it. At the end of the day, why handicap yourself more than you need to? If you use a coach or guide, you’ll obviously end up paying for the privilege but if you’re serious about this type of fishing as a long-term pastime, it will be money well spent. There are never any guarantees, but when you’re learning, give yourself the best possible chance of catching that fish.”
A river is a small confined space for fishing and the fish are much more easily spooked. So any sort of disturbance is very obvious to the fish. You need to assess the river even before you get in to fishing it. Approach it and spend five or ten minutes just watching and when you start, don’t disturb any of the rocks and certainly don’t fall in! Some people will try and fish downstream which isn’t a good idea, particularly on a small river because the fish are facing upstream towards you. So if you cast your fly downstream, they’ll see you coming.”
Pete Tyjas – Publisher and former professional river guide
Take time to watch. Are fishing rising? Are there bugs hatching? Are fish moving about or not moving about? All this would affect my set up and whether I fish a dry fly or nymph or even a combination. I’ve always found that by watching the river, it will give you all the clues you need by showing you its secrets. When coarse anglers come into it, I’ve found they generally have good watercraft because they understand where the fish are going to be feeding.
“A common problem I’ve seen, especially with people coming from still water backgrounds is wanting to cast too far. It’s not about distance, it’s about the drift and making your fly look like the real thing on the water. If you want two feet extra on your cast, step forward two feet.”
Fly fishing for river trout is not easy fishing but the rewards and the levels of self-satisfaction are high because the quarry is a wild fish in its natural habitat. So fish handling is the final, perhaps most important act in any successful catch.
“I would say 99% of fly anglers on rivers are fishing catch and release now so you need to treat the fish with respect,” says Ceri.
“Fish handling is incredibly important. The key is to keep the fish as close to the water as possible – or even in it – when you’re handling them. Try not to do the ‘grip and grin’ photos where you climb up the bank. If you want a picture, get the net in the water and lay the fish semi-submerged and take your photo like that.”
More often than not, fly fishing a river, puts you IN the water rather than alongside it. So there’s a greater chance you’ll have something – even the smallest creature, piece of vegetation or seed sticking to a wader or boot. The truth is you never know whether it’s a harmless native remnant or a non-native invasive so this is where the Check, Clean Dry campaign is even more relevant than normal. Please do check the campaign advice before you fish and follow the relevant guidance.