With all due respect to anglers, I’ve never seen the attraction of fishing. Sitting beside a river or lake never appealed to me as much as walking alongside it, kayaking down it or jumping into it.
Fly fishing, however, has always held a rather magical attraction. Like many walkers, I’ve often watched a fly fisher and been lulled by their graceful movements and envied their deep concentration and greater chances of spotting a kingfisher or otter. So when an opportunity to try fly fishing came up, I jumped
at the chance – but could I master the skills to catch a fish in one day?
To find out, my partner and I met up with instructor Andrew Cartwright on the banks of the River Severn. In Caersws, where we joined this mighty river 20 miles from the source, it bubbles over flat pebbles and forms little eddies where trout and grayling feed. Before we could get our boots wet, Andrew took us through the rules of licenses, permits, safety and kit – in particular the need to wear sunglasses to protect our eyes from rogue hooks.
Pulling on chest-high waders, we clomped down to the river beside an old packhorse bridge to practise our casting. “Some people expect to start fishing straightaway,” Andrew told us, tying a piece of pink wool to the end of our leader, “but the only way to make the fish bite is to learn how to cast.”
He then taught us how to roll cast, telling us to form a wide arch to one side and then propel our rod forward and abruptly stop, flicking the line so the fly drops gently onto the water. “It’s all about the stop,” he told us. “If your arm gets tired, you’re doing it wrong.” Once we’d mastered that, we worked on an overhead cast, accelerating the rod upwards to flick the line overhead then, after a pause, propelling it forward and stopping abruptly to whisk the line clear of the water. After some practice, I began to get the hang of things.
Flies are designed to mimic species of tasty insect. It was clear that making them by hand was an art form, but how do you know which fly will catch a fish? “Grayling love pink,” Andrew told us, “trout tend to go for a bit of red. It’s mainly trial and error though.” The choice of fly-tying materials sounded mind-blowing: pheasant wings and rabbit fur to metallic threads. “It makes you see Quality Street wrappers in a whole new light,” Andrew laughed.
I threaded my leader with a deer hair sedge fly and waded in. A real sedge fly is big and splashy, apparently – ideal for my less-than-elegant casting style. Andrew had already caught a grayling, so our odds were good. “Imagine the river is a chess board, and place your fly in each square,” Andrew said, then pointed out the streams of bubbles that showed the current and likely location of the fish.
Using a combination of a roll and overhead cast, I soon sank into a rhythm. I felt calm, but far from switched off; I became mindful of my surroundings – the heavy feel of the river through my waders and the soft whoosh as the line flicked overhead (which meant I was doing it wrong, Andrew later told me).
After an hour, my arm began to ache so Andrew put the end of the rod up my sleeve to keep my wrist straight. It did the trick and on the next cast I felt a tug on the line. Lifting the rod sharply, I pulled in an 8-inch grayling – my first catch. We quickly removed the hook and popped the fish back in the water. “Does anyone ever catch grayling to eat?” I asked Andrew, as my dinner swam downstream. “Not at that size,” he laughed, “anything under eight inches and you’re left with nothing bigger than a fish finger.”
A competitive sport?
Undeterred, we continued to cast, meandering upstream until we reached a bend in the river. The fish had stopped rising, and my boyfriend began to look dejected. “You see,” Andrew said, “fly fishing only becomes competitive once one person has caught something.” I smiled – unlike the grayling, I wasn’t going to let this one go for a while.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Shrewsbury, take the A458 to Welshpool then the A483 to Newtown, before picking up the Llanidloes Road. You can park in the Caersws FC car park, on the left before the bridge, or in a community car park in Llandinam.
FIND OUT MORE
Go Fly Fishing UK
Fly fishing lessons throughout England, Scotland and Wales.
Rod license and permits
You need a valid Environment Agency rod license to fish (environment-agency.gov.uk), from £3.75 per day to £72 per season, and a permit or permission from a landowner. A day permit near Caersws cost £12 each.
Pontdolgoch, near Caersws SY17 5JE
This traditional coaching inn
has a beamed bar and log fire.
Trefeglwys, Caersws SY17 5PU