Fishing: Flat, rippled or dry fly - all in my ideal book at bedtime

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The Independent Online
APOLOGIES FOR my absence last week, I was just so busy reading all the letters my last column illicited. Special name-in-lights mention must go to R Brockbank in Cumbria, who seemed to think me saying that it is usually men that pose for pictures holding fat bellied fish constituted feminism. Mr Brockbank! That wasn't feminism, it was a sentence. What is the world coming to if one can't make a generalisation?

Before I launch into the subject proper this week, I must mention that the salmon by-laws proposed by the Environment Agency have now come into force. These affect fishermen in England and Wales and are as follows: Salmon and sea trout netting will now not start until 1 June (a few specified fisheries may still net for sea trout but will have to return any salmon they accidentally catch).

Rod and line anglers can start fishing for salmon when the local season officially starts - however, any angler catching a salmon before 16 June must return it with minimum injury.

You must only use artificial flies or lures before that date, and nothing else, no worms or shrimps, etc.

Be aware, however, that some rivers will have their own even more stringent local regulations, so please make sure you know what they are before you start.

Now then, *Sportfish. For a couple of years I have wanted to find out a bit more about them. Their mail order catalogue is often given away free with fishing magazines. My copy sits constantly by my bed and I love it.

As someone relatively new to fishing, compared to all those "at the river bank from birth" types, I like its friendly, clear approach. Fifteen years ago, when Sportfish started, its catalogues were not so good. "I'd be really embarrassed to show you one now," says Philip Parkinson, who owns Sportfish with his wife, Anne. Well, we all have to start somewhere, and their black and white early offerings have mutated into something altogether more slick and colourful now.

Mail order accounts for 90 per-cent of Sportfish's business. Lucky folk in Hereford can visit the Sportfish HQ and shop (at Winforton), Londoners can visit them on Pall Mall (where Tidelines used to be), sandwiched betwixt Hardy's and Farlows.

When this latest shop opened I was almost beside myself with excitement at the thought of being able to see all the gadgets from the catalogue come alive. Sportfish mixes the traditional with modern, more US-inspired kit. Hence you can still get lovely Richard Wheatley metal fly boxes, but if you fancy something a little more minimalist then you can have that too.

A very innovative fly-holding idea they sell is by C&F Design, which consists of system files, fly boxes and linings. The files are large, flat, clear plastic boxes and you can clip in six foam linings (flat, rippled or dry fly).

The idea is that you put particular flies (say, for a hot day on a chalk stream) on each lining and, when you go fishing, you take whichever linings you want out and put them in the fly boxes.

Although I adore my Wheatley boxes, which are all engraved with my fishing name, I really took a shine to the C&F design. For one, when all six linings are fully loaded and in their files they look great - you can see them all in one go.

My fishing buddy, Pete, was not so keen, so I had to return the system, which I had bought for him as a present (financial restrictions did not allow me to keep it for myself).

Philip Parkinson knows a lot about fishing (his wife doesn't fish but knows a lot about the products, since it was she who initially started up the business). He used to be a fisheries scientist for the Welsh Water Authority and was involved in the opening of reservoirs as fisheries in the 70s, then he was made Fisheries Officer for Gwynedd, which he left to work at Partridge's of Redditch, the hook and bamboo cane rod manufacturers. (Andy Murray of Hardy's recently told me there is no such thing as a split cane rod, they're called bamboo rods).

Then Parkinson worked for a some tackle manufacturers, then joined Anne and Sportfish, which she had already been running for some years. He is also a founder member of the Wye Foundation and is very involved with lots of conservation work, which I shall report on later in the year.

We talked for several hours whilst I consumed Fox's Glacier Mints, a large stash of which he keeps on his desk, about hatcheries, fish farms, and the new laws that I have reported on before. It was like doing a fisheries degree in one easy, sweet-sucking afternoon, although I suspect, made much easier.

*Sportfish: 01544 327111 or 0171 839 9008.