A couple of months ago I booked a fly fishing experience day for me and my 36 year-old son. It was something that neither of us had ever tried and it seemed like something we’d enjoy.
We decided on Meon Springs, in Hampshire, as it was roughly half-way between each of our houses. And the website looked promising.
We met In the warmth of the Fishing Lodge with our instructor, Andrea Smith. Andrea just happens to represent England in tournament fishing… so, she clearly knew her stuff. After a cuppa and a chat about the day we were off, into what looked like a thoroughly miserable day outside. So miserable-looking that Greg, the fishery manager, offered to let us re-book another day. We decided to see how things went and decide later.
After an essential safety briefing we set-off for the river bank with rod ‘n’ reel outfit in hand. Here, the centre’s advice to “dress for the weather”, and wear “suitable footwear” (wellies in our case) was well-founded. After-all, this is a riverbank in the latter part of November!
The scene before us was a beautiful lake, nestled in a valley within the South Downs National Park. Trees on the opposite, southern bank providing shelter from the south-south-easterly wind of the day. The grass on the banks was deep and lush as a family of Pomeranian Geese ambled-by. The overriding feeling was a sense of peace and quiet.
Andrea took us through familiarisation with the rules and etiquette of fly fishing.
We started off learning the ‘Roll Cast’. A technique that leaves the line and leader in the water and is cast with a fluid movement. Pretty quickly, we realised that there was more to this fly fishing business than we’d thought. But, with the keen eye of a professional coach, we were getting the hang of it nicely.
Planning the cast and committing to the cast are essential, and timing is very much the key. On to the Side Cast. A variant of the Rolling Cast enables access to areas, perhaps under overhead obstacles. It was now mid-morning and time for a cuppa. However, we’d fallen into the fly fishing trap of ‘just one more cast’. Andrea, though, allowed us ‘just one more cast’ and marched us off for tea.
The fishing lodge provides a warm haven from the Autumn weather, where there is tea and coffee on the go all day. You’ll also find a selection of snacks and sweets available. Other people at the centre, for things such as one-to-one coaching or fishing for themselves, pop in and out, and all are happy to chat. It’s a very welcoming environment.
The tea break was not just a chance for a cuppa, though, as Andrea was feeding us more knowledge while we sat and chatted. All the while giving us each feedback on our progress. Then it was back to the water’s edge.
We had a tour of the Catch and Release lakes. These are stocked with smaller Rainbow Trout and indigenous Brown Trout and are more “wiley”. We learned and practised the ‘Overhead Cast’, the classic image we all have of fly fishing. Then ‘shooting some line’ (letting more line out) in order to cast farther.
On to retrieving the line, known as ‘stripping’. The technique for this, and ‘playing’ the fish in order to land it. Then it was lunch!
Back inside the fishing lodge and tucking-in to a delightful hot pasty the instruction continued. We learned about different fly types and their behaviour. With demonstrations of dry and wet flies and their different sinking rates. Once we were dry again it was back to the water, this time to Coombe lake and with hooks fitted.
Fly fishing, proper
Yes, the previous casting was without hooks, and for very good reason. Aside from the obvious safety aspect, it was imperative that we learned proper techniques of casting, shooting and stripping line. A fish at this time would have seriously complicated things. But, we now had enough knowledge to fish safely and add the dimension of possibly catching something.
Everything changes when actually fishing. The cast feels ‘different’. The sense of looking for where the fish may be. Or seeing a fish and trying to place the fly such that it will see it; follow it; and, hopefully, take it is all-consuming. All the while, the keen eye of our coach, was reminding us of position, timing, speed… she really misses nothing.
Andrea put a line in herself and hooked into the fish. When she had, we both had the chance of playing and landing what she had hooked.
With two beautiful rainbow trout of just over two pounds each on the river bank for dinner. We fished until the light faded.
Just one more cast…
I’ve titled this review ‘more than an experience day’ because that is what it was. We booked an experience day expecting to get a few flies wet in a small enclosure of easy-to-catch fish. To pull out something and go home happy. What we actually got was a taste of club life; proper instruction and coaching from really knowledgeable people; the opportunity to fish in the same waters; for the same quarry as the experienced club members; and the assurance that we could now go fly-fishing on our own.
The weather? Yes, it rained; yes, it was blowing a hooly; yes, it made seeing the fish more of a challenge; and yes, it made casting something more to think about. What it didn’t do, though, was spoil the day. In some ways, it actually made it better!
There’s still much to be learned, but we have decided that we’re going to continue Fly-Fishing as a Father/Son/Grandson pastime. And that we will return to Meon Springs many times in the coming years.
As well as fly-fishing, Meon Springs provides a great venue for the whole family, including dogs!
One of the books that we both found interesting is called Matching the Hatch, and shows how to choose a fly based on the growing stage of the insects, from emerging grud, through intermediate to the adult. It’s an ideal gift for anyone interested in fly-fishing.