how to fly fish

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The Independent Culture
If there are five million fishermen in this country there must be something in it. Starting from a position of total ignorance I decided, nonetheless, to start at the top and took myself to the Hugh Falkus School of Casting where they teach a one-day course for trout fishing and a two- day course for salmon.

Hugh Falkus is revered in the fishing world as "the greatest fisherman this century" - so if I couldn't learn here, there was no hope for me. Now in his late seventies, he has passed his mantle to Michael Daunt who teaches all the Falkus techniques at Rooksbury Mill, near Andover in Hampshire. The whole point of learning to cast properly is that it means you can fish anywhere (rather important when you can spend pounds 3,500 for a week's fishing on one of the top rivers in Scotland).

The simple overhead cast that goes behind you can be impossible if you're in front of a steep bank for example or when the line gets caught in trees along the riverbank. And, as it disappears out of sight, it can be dangerous. "I've seen people with hooks in their eyes and faces," says Daunt.

So, what's the difference with this method? Daunt's enthusiasm for the beauty of his mentor's casting techniques is rhapsodic. "It's the most beautiful series of loops in the air - completely unique - that are always in front of you, under your control, and using the wind instead of fighting against it. It means you can fish literally anywhere." And, under Daunt's direction, it also looks easy.

However, once the salmon rod was in my hands, the effect was somewhat different. In my case, the rod was around 12ft-long (bigger people have bigger rods) with a line on the end that looked about twice that length again. It was not heavy, it just seemed to have a mind of its own. I was all for conjuring up balletic arcs in the air and then laying a straight line exactly where the fish were lurking. In practice, however, it ended up coiled at my feet like a plate of spaghetti.

Daunt was, thankfully, patient and put me through my paces till my arms ached. You start with the rod drooping down towards the water. You then carry it backwards and upwards until your arms are pulled out of their sockets. Then you flick it. If that doesn't work, you bang it like a hammer. And if it still dribbles out over the water you take lunch with Daunt who tells you not to worry.

In the afternoon, I tried trout casting instead. It seemed far simpler - making a slow tick-tock motion back and forth onto the water - and, to my amazement, I could do it. I then had another go at salmon casting and found I could do that too. Bursting with new-found confidence I went to catch a trout - this time with a hook on the end of the line.

After dangling the fly in the water for a few minutes, a trout actually took it. I thought it would snap the rod. With Daunt's guidance, I managed to catch three, though I admit I left it to him to administer the quick blow to the head.

Fly-fishing (as opposed to coarse fishing) does not have to cost a fortune. You can get a day's trout fishing on a stocked lake for as little as pounds 20 a day. But if you want to fish trout in the traditional way on a chalk stream like the Test or the Kennet, you'll pay around pounds 2,000 a year for a day's fishing a week. With salmon, too, there are cheaper options than Scotland. You can go on a spate river for around pounds 600 for a week's fishing - but, no rain, no fish.

While the sport is traditionally male-dominated, Daunt sees no reason for this. "Women are easier to teach and usually better co-ordinated," he explains. "In fact, all the record salmon have been caught by women. That's because the biggest fish are the cocks rather than the hens and women give off pheromones that attract the males. Quite extraordinary."


One-day trout fishing course pounds 100 for one, pounds 75 for two. Two-day spey casting course (salmon) pounds 250 per person. The Hugh Falkus School of Casting, Rooksbury Mill, Andover, Hants (01264 352921/731365)