<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Lancashire Life today click here

Fly fishing on the River Hodder

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 September 2017

A fly fisherman on the River Hodder

A fly fisherman on the River Hodder

glynn ward

There really is more to fishing than catching fish. Conservation is the keyword for one of Lancashire’s top angling clubs, as Martin Pilkington discovers

Martin (left) gets some tuition from a member of Bowland Game Fishing Association Martin (left) gets some tuition from a member of Bowland Game Fishing Association

On a sunny summer’s day on the river below the Higher Hodder Bridge mature trees lean out from the steep southern bank, while across the wide waters an ample grassy margin shelves gently upwards. A newly-hatched mayfly flits above the fast-flowing stream whose surface breaks as a trout intercepts another. It’s the perfect place for fly-fishing, as members of the Bowland Game-Fishing Association know very well.

That pristine scene isn’t just down to nature. ‘Miles of fencing have been put up along here to stop cattle getting to the river and polluting it,’ explains Brian Wells, chairman of the BGFA, which owns seven miles of water here. ‘Livestock break the fences and rub against the banks, then the soil clogs the salmon redds so the eggs in them are lost.’

Here, and at their waters on the Cumbrian Derwent, the Aire in Yorkshire, the Lune and on the Ribble, the BGFA is fighting on multiple fronts to keep salmon, trout and grayling stocks, and the wider environment, healthy. ‘We’ve recently planted a lot of trees,’ Brian continues, ‘partly because salmonids are sensitive to the rising temperatures that climate change is bringing, so increasing shade helps keep the rivers cooler.’

Insects that fall from the leaves into the water also feed the fish, as do others given a habitat in the water by strategically placed stumps of tree trunk. Members have taken on the spiling of stretches of bank to shore them up – driving stakes into the river bed and weaving willow around them; they are active in regional river trusts; and the association contributes funds to many ecological initiatives, and takes plenty of its own, like a programme to place bird and bat boxes along their stretches of water.

The association has some of the loveliest beats in the north The association has some of the loveliest beats in the north

Of late, a lot of work has gone into efforts to improve the industrial rivers of East Lancashire that feed into the traditional fishing rivers, but the invisible fertiliser run-off from farmland is of more concern than industrial pollution these days, so members like Ken Maylor monitor the association’s various waters to check on their health.

He demonstrates what kick-sampling – disturbing a small area of river bed and netting the creatures that flee his size 12s – reveals. This time there’s a two-inch long bullhead fish, several minnows, the aptly named agile darter (an aquatic Billy Whizz), stone-fly nymphs that jerk side-to-side in a Ray Charles fashion, scooting water beetles, case-caddis larvae, and a host of others too tiny to identify without a microscope. It seems healthy enough, and the ripples created by rising trout in the shade by the south bank add to that picture.

The fish are catchable too, as another BGFA member, Keith Owen, soon demonstrates, hooking and liberating a fine brown trout. With about 150 members, the BGFA’s fishing of its 27 miles of water is light, and while it’s not compulsory to release fish, very few trout are taken, and last year all salmon and sea trout caught were released. The club’s anglers now use barbless hooks exclusively, to reduce stress on fish fooled into taking a fly, though it means more wriggle free before they can be netted. ‘We’re a civilised lot,’ says Brian, ‘and there’s more to fishing than catching fish!’

The very patient Alan Davies gives me a quick lesson in casting a fly, and we wade stealthily towards where Keith has demonstrated there are fish, trying a variety of methods, tempting the finicky trout with a selection of flies tied by Alan’s own hands. ‘It’s like golf,’ Alan explains as I fall short of the target area again, ‘the more you try to force it, the shorter the distance you achieve.’ On the occasions when the line flicks out neatly, and the tiny fly on the gossamer-thin tippet seems to float down to the water it is rewarding in itself. That’s just as well, as no fish volunteer to make my day.

Ken checks the bugs taken in a sample from the river Ken checks the bugs taken in a sample from the river

Alan then shows how it’s done, landing and letting go another brownie. My failure may not be entirely due to inadequate skill. ‘We have a good head of fish on this river still,’ says Brian, ‘but there has been a decline in numbers – last year’s salmon catch was considerably down from our average.’ The major suspected cause is problems created by fish-farming, but pollution, climate change, and poaching may be contributing.

A decline in fish stocks is not just bad for fishing; it also impacts on the rural economy. ‘Along with our local members, we have plenty who live further afield – in Derbyshire, Birmingham, the south east – and come up to Lancashire for a few days’ fishing every so often, staying in hotels and B&Bs, eating out,’ says Brian. ‘And likewise, when we go to our fishing on the Cumbrian Derwent. As fish numbers drop it becomes less attractive to make those trips.’

In spite of that decline the association, which can trace its origins back to 1865, still has a waiting list of those eager to join. The beauty of the settings in which they fish could almost be enough in itself. But catching a perfect fish on a perfectly cast fly would surely make it even better?

Large numbers of bug and small fish indicate a healthy river Large numbers of bug and small fish indicate a healthy river

Join the cast

* Visitors to this year’s Lancashire Game and Country Festival will have a chance to try their hand at fly fishing, while getting some casting tips.

For anyone considering taking up the sport, Chorley-based Sunray Fly Fish will be demonstrating how it’s done and offering visitors the opportunity to try casting a fly.

Sunray MD Tom Bell said: ‘Fly casting looks easy, but it does rely on the ability to correctly grip a fly fishing rod and to make the right stroke with the right amount of power and the right timing. It takes a bit of learning, but no more so than learning to properly hit a golf or tennis ball with the appropriate equipment. And it’s always best to learn from a professional.’

You can also contact The Game Angling Instructors’ Association, GAIC. If you are interested in joining Bowland Game Fish Association go to www.bgfa.org.uk

More from Out & About

Wed, 00:00

Celebrate the historic waterways of Lancashire with one of these canalside walks that allow you to enjoy the countryside and witness echoes the the county’s industrial past.

Read more
Tue, 00:00

Their football clubs both wear navy blue and white strips, but how well can you identify landmarks in Bolton and Preston?

Read more
Preston Bolton Quiz
Friday, January 12, 2018

Spring is not too far off and that’s the time when the birds start getting noisier in our woodlands. The Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Alan Wright investigates a couple of the stars of the Dawn Chorus.

Read more
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

John Lenehan selects a relatively gentle walk to blow away the post-Christmas cobwebs

Read more
Ribble Valley Walks
Monday, January 8, 2018

This proud Lancashire town is shaking off the impact of recession and looking forward to a brighter future, writes Angela Kelly

Read more

History is all around you in Cockermouth, but the town has a bustling present and an exciting future too.

Read more
Thursday, January 4, 2018

Stonyhurst College houses the oldest surviving museum collection in the English speaking world.

Roger Borrell reports

Read more
Thursday, January 4, 2018

Whether you’re horse crazy or just along for the ride, equine related events are an important part of the social calendar

Read more
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The 50th anniversary of this unique Bolton theatre will involve the creation of a new centre for the performing arts. Angela Kelly reports

Read more
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

It’s been an action packed year in Lancashire, how much of it can you remember?

Read more
Thursday, December 7, 2017

Usually when we are talking about new sightings of birds in Lancashire, we are referring to the ‘little brown jobs’, which are difficult to recognise.

Read more
Wednesday, December 6, 2017

John Lenehan crosses the paths of witches and Romans in a spectaular walk that’s perfect for a dry winter’s day

Read more
Ribble Valley Walks
Monday, December 4, 2017

Christmas seems even more appealing in a beautiful rural location, as Mike Glover and photographer Sandy Kitchin discovered

Read more
Grasmere Christmas
Thursday, November 30, 2017

How many of these local landmarks can you recognise?

Read more
Christmas Quiz
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Lancashire Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Lancashire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Property Search