Your reel life starts here

Annalisa Barbieri straps on her waders to learn the art of fly fishing. J R Hartley eat your heart out...

earning to fish was once a skill passed on from father to son. Older hands would help younger ones tie knots, they would point out insect hatches and help little arms with the tricky business of casting. This doesn't happen very much any more, which is a dreadful shame because many folk aren't introduced to the magic of fishing until later in life - thereby wasting all those years!

There are essentially three types of fishing: fly fishing where the bait used is an artificial pattern of an actual insect; coarse fishing where the bait is, or was, alive (maggots, prawns etc) and sea fishing which can involve using deadbait, flies or big lures that are literally to tempt the fish up from the depths and are crude imitations of what the intended prey eats. Fly fishing is very active, coarse fishing is what you see those solitary fishermen doing on the sides of canals - where they sit still for hours, and sea fishing is most often done off a boat and can be very glamorous and exciting especially if Martinis are involved. Fly fishing is the most skilled of the three. Learning to do it properly is highly recommended, especially before buying expensive fishing equipment, plus it can be enormous fun.

The Arundell Arms in Devon does a superb course for beginners. There are many reasons it is so good: it is thorough, well planned (as it should be, they've been teaching fishing for 60 years) and lasts four days which is just about right. And the food there is really fantastic which, let me tell you, is important after a day's fishing. The rooms were too functional and not luxurious enough for me but after all that fishing and eating, I fell asleep almost immediately anyway.

On the first day, the other eight people on the course and I were given our equipment: rods, fishing waistcoats and the most important piece of any fisherman's kit: protective glasses. Pictures of hooks in eyes (not sustained at the Arundell Arms) reminded the novice fisherman that glasses are essential. Then it was off to the nearby lake to learn casting techniques: the overhead cast and the roll cast are the most used in trout fishing. No hooks were used at this stage, just bits of orange wool tied on to the end of the line.

We were videoed whilst doing this by our instructors Roy Buckingham and David Pilkington. Then it was back into the classroom at the hotel to watch what we had been doing wrong - casting is not easy and can takes years to master. Watching yourself casting on video is a really useful exercise but all I could do is watch in horror as I saw how big my bottom looked in all my fishing gear, which was not the idea at all. But, pressing on, after lunch we learned about knots, then to the lake again to practise casting and shooting line.

That evening, before being dismissed, David gave an excellent lecture on safety and we were shown how to take hooks out if someone did spear themselves. (As long as it's not in the eyes, which it shouldn't be if you wear glasses, it's not that big a deal.) This was important because the next day we were to graduate to using hooks at the end of our lines. Then dinner which was a fortifying steak with glorious thin chips and a highly recommended Guigal 1993 Cotes du Rhone.

The next day we started off in the classroom with Roy giving a talk on tackle and how not to be ripped off, then we were issued with wet and dry flies (dry sit on the water, wet ones in the water) and it was back to the lake. The whole afternoon was spent fishing, stopping only to empty the picnic hamper of its steak pasties. Several people caught a trout and I missed one in spectacular fashion because, despite being the most experienced person on the course, I forgot every basic rule and got overexcited and the fish (yes, it was big) broke the line.

No matter, that night there was more lovely food to consume, including a gorgeous sea trout that my boy Pete (not on the course) had caught that very afternoon, and a very delicious trifle. The following morning we were taken to the river Lyd. Here I caught three beautiful wild brown trout almost immediately on a dry fly - a Parachute Black Gnat. Dry flies are really exciting because they sit on the water and you can see the trout rise to take it and you have to strike at just the right moment. The only thing I can compare it to in terms of addiction is video games - but it's so much better than that. In the evening we were given a talk on insect life and then the people on the course who had caught fish that day stayed up most of the night talking endlessly about fish.

On the last day of the course we fished the Ottery, another river that the Arundell Arms has beats on. After getting hopelessly stuck in mud, which saw Roy having to unceremoniously winch my thighs out to save me sinking further, (by this time I was significantly heavier than when I had arrived) I caught a very precious salmon parr (a baby salmon) which I saw safely back into the water. Then it was home time. After the course everyone was given a very useful booklet - A Beginner's Guide to Fly Fishing - and a voucher that allows two days' free trout fishing on the hotel water anytime in the next year. For most people, that won't be anywhere near enough.

WHERE TO LEARN THE ART OF ANGLING

THE ARUNDELL ARMS...

The Arundell Arms, in Lifton, Devon, (tel: 01566 784666, e-mail: ArundellArms@ btinternet.com) offers four-day river and lake trout fly fishing courses from August to September. Call for dates. Prices: pounds 299 per adult (pounds 189 for under-17s). Three-day refresher river trout courses run from May to September. Prices: pounds 220 per adult (pounds 150 for under-17s). Two-day beginners' quickie courses are held from end of March to June, pounds 165 per adult (pounds 110 for under-17s). Prices do not include accommodation and meals. Advanced salmon casting courses and fly-tying courses are also held.

...AND ELSEWHERE

Check what's included in the price before you book. Some places include equipment, some don't. In England and Wales you need a rod licence to fish, available from post offices or hotels. The prices below do not include accommodation unless stated and are per person.

Ally Gowans (tel: 01796 473718, e-mail: ally.gowans @dial.pipex.com) holds casting clinics that can be tailored to individual needs; phone for details. He is holding a two-day salmon-fishing course at the Kenmore Hotel in Perthshire on 26-28 March for pounds 199.50 including meals and accommodation. Contact James Duncan at Kenmore (tel: 01887 830205).

The Carnarvon Arms Hotel (tel: 01392 214894) in Dulverton, Somerset, runs fly-fishing courses. Two-day salmon or trout course, from pounds 120; four-day beginners' course from pounds 280; one-day trout course, pounds 40.

The Deer Park Country Hotel (tel: 01404 41266) in Honiton, Devon, has three courses: a four-day beginners' trout course, pounds 250 (under-16s, pounds 200); a two-day refresher trout course, pounds 125 (pounds 100); beginners' quickie two- day course, pounds 120 (pounds 100).

Endsleigh Fishing Club (tel: 0171-610 1982) in Tavistock, Devon, runs weekend residential salmon courses (4-5 April, places still available; 19-20 June and 14-15 August). The April course costs pounds 210 and includes full board and lodging; the June and August courses cost pounds 102 and do not include board and lodging.

Farleyer House Hotel (tel: 01887 820332) in Perthshire, Scotland, holds spey- (salmon) casting courses for different levels: six-day beginners', pounds 895; four-day competent, pounds 675; three-day advanced, pounds 475. All prices are per person but based on two anglers sharing. They also have fishing breaks where you can learn to fish; prices start at pounds 375 for a three-day spring break. Prices include full-board accommodation and the services of a ghillie.

Orvis (tel: 01264 349519), the famous tackle makers, holds loads of different- level courses all over the country from weekend beginners (which are very popular and get booked up almost immediately) to sea trout fishing in Wales, plus salmon, salt water courses etc. Prices from pounds 85 for a one- day course in north Yorkshire to pounds 300 for a weekend residential still water fly fishing course at Chew. Dates vary; call for more details.

The Salmon and Trout Association (tel: 0171-283 5838) produces The National Register of Game Angling Instructors booklet which gives details of professional certificate-holding instructors from all around the country who can provide individual fishing tuition. The STA also has a list of nationwide junior fishing courses that take place throughout the year; call for details.

The Hugh Falkus School of Spey Casting (tel: 01962 882000) specialises in spey-casting and holds various one- and two-day courses; prices start at pounds 250.

The Rod Box (tel: 01962 883600) gives lessons in chalk stream techniques and fly-casting tuition; prices are from pounds 40.

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