John Bailey: Art of fly fishing is a joy to behold

I often neglect fly fishing which is bad because I absolutely adore this particular discipline.

With the start of the fly season swiftly approaching, if I don't grab this opportunity to talk about it now, when will I ever do so? For those who don't fish and still read this column (and I'm gratified how many of you do) or to those who fish without the fly, please read on because fly fishing is simply a lovely thing to do.

Fly fishing is about grace, rhythm and the most precise technique. At its most basic, how to actually cast a fly is obviously the vital first step, but, once you've mastered that, the soul really takes over.

A great fly cast, a great tennis volley, a great cricket cover drive, a great Beckham-like free-kick...these are all similar manifestations of exquisite physical prowess. I know that this is one of my most frequent hobbyhorses but it's a valuable one. Fishing is a sport and a meaningful one so where is fly casting within the Olympic line up? It's a serious question: some sports are simply so frivolous, they take my breath away but they will still be represented come summer 2012.

But I'll move on from that one.


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Fly fishing is all about the fly-tyers art of imitating the natural fly in the truest, most realistic possible way. A fly fisher must be intimately attuned to aquatic fly life and recognise every nuance of the changing day on the waterside. A real fly angler will know his duns from his spinners, his sedges from his olives. He'll know how nymphs behave erratically in the water and how to work his imitation to look exactly like the scuttling waterboatmen. He – or she, of course – can look at a rising trout and know exactly upon what natural food the fish is feeding. This is an art. This is merging with the waterside in a powerful, seamless, wondrous way.

There are numerous advantages that the fly fisher enjoys over the bait man. A fly rod, reel and box of flies are always ready to go with little or no preparation. You don't need to riddle your maggots or defrost your deads! Nor are you bowed down by a carapace of tackle. You don't need bivvy barrows or a team of Sherpas. You travel light and you fish unencumbered. And, frequently, on commercial waters especially, you've even got your supper at the end of the day.

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If there is a downside, it is that Norfolk is not Scotland or Wales. Nor is it one of the famous fly fishing counties like Hampshire, Wiltshire or parts of North Yorkshire. However, there's a lot going on here.

There are many ways into Norfolk fly fishing and, at its best, it is excellent. I'm privileged and happy to be a member of the Norfolk Fly Fishers' Club which owns a glorious lake beside the River Wensum at Swanton Morley. It's an old club dating back 40 years or so and it has mellowed nicely in all that time. Its history is a proud one and I sense many of the members realize that they are a part of something significant.

The members (sadly not me very often) look after the water magnificently and the fishing can be top-class by any standard. Moreover, the Fly Fishers is a social club as well as a fishery. You rarely cross the bridge to the clubhouse without being met by a posse of smiling faces. So well done to all that run the club – I even like it for the fact that, believe it or not, I'm one of the younger members.

Fly anglers in particular are very much guardians of the stream. You could say it's in an angler's interest to look after a piece of water to get the most out of fishing it. I think that's a bit cynical: I think that very many fly anglers actually enjoy helping the environment and improving a river's lot.

Over the years, there has been some great stuff done on rivers like the Wensum, the Bure, the Glaven, the Stiffkey and the Nar. Many stretches have been 'improved' beyond recognition. Where once beats of water were slow, sluggish and dirty, they're now quick with gravels and groynes. All this takes immense effort and time and most of the men who labour away most of the time are there for love and certainly not for money.

It's good to visit these pieces of water, especially now mayfly time is not far around the corner. You will notice that benches have been built, that willows have been planted and that the water fairly chirrups along over recently-introduced boulders and chalk.

There are more insects and this means there are more birds as well as fish. Thanks to the ancient sport of fly fishing, this is an environmental win-win situation.

East Anglia is dotted, too, with the most excellent of commercial fisheries where you can really begin to experiment with the fly if you're so inclined. Several of them are mentioned in the angling pages of the EDP each week but one that rarely is belongs to James Harrold at Rockland Mere.

James is a super guy who, I believe, has got all the boxes ticked. His lake is pleasant and well-stocked. There's a shop to buy gear at reasonable prices. Refreshments are available. James is on hand day in, day out, to teach those vital skills and inject occasionally needed confidence. If you're toying with the idea of the fly, this is the place to go for the most rounded and enjoyable of introductions.

Next week, I'll be looking at what I think are the ten big challenges facing East Anglian fly men. But as ever, read my near daily blogs at www.kingfisherapartments.co.uk.

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