During a cold winters evening in the heart of London attending the film premier of CHALK - Bedrock of Fly Fishing , we were fortunate enough to meet so many like-minded fly fisherman, flyfisherwoman and flyfisheryoungsters sharing the same passion for the chase we love. Over a few beers, we had a long chat with Fred Brown who shared many stories chasing Wild Brown Trout in the UK. It only seemed right to share some of these with you.
I have now been fly fishing for over twenty years which seems a strange thing to say aged twenty-seven but it’s true. I first picked up a fly rod at the age of four and have always had a profound fascination with fish, especially those that can be caught on the fly. But my initial spark of love with the sport came on the banks of the Blackwater in Ireland, after I had caught and landed my first Wild Brown Trout. I remember the panic that set in after I hooked it, so much so that I gave it a lot of wellie and swung it onto the bank within seconds of hooking it! It wasn’t that small either, three quarters of a pound and utterly stunning. I was besotted from that very moment and haven’t put down a fly rod for any real length of time since. In my early twenties I was fortunate enough to turn my obsession into a career, after getting a unique opportunity to run my own salt water guiding business in Mozambique. I was out there for three years and the amount of different species that I guided was mind blowing. I learnt a massive amount during my guiding and was fortunate enough to witness some of nature’s best spectacles, but what really hit home for me was the feeling of enormous satisfaction of watching another person catch a fish. This I can safely say will stay with me for the rest of my life.
"I remember the panic that set in after I hooked it"
I have now been back in the UK for five years and I have turned my attention to the rivers and the fish that started my fixation with fly fishing, but more specifically large wild brown trout. This isn’t something that the UK has a big name for but after my first season of putting significant effort into this, I can safely say that some of our rivers have good populations of very large brown trout. The obvious spots containing these are of course the chalk streams of Southern England (some stocked), however we all need to look North (oh and West). Don’t get me wrong, the chalkstreams of Hampshire and Wiltshire played a vital role in the history of our sport, sculpting fly fishing into what it is today. But for me, the ultimate satisfaction I can get from fly fishing is catching wild fish in truly wild settings.
Last season I tried most methods of fly fishing to target big fish whether it was; dry fly, nymphs or streamers. All methods worked, but I found out on a late season trip to my favourite big-fish river that streamers were absolutely deadly for them. These were big streamers too, articulated, bushy and size six hooks in some cases and the trout were hammering them. I’m not saying that all the fish I caught were big, far from it, but I landed plenty of fish within the two pound bracket with a couple of fish touching three pounds. But what really stood out to me was the fact that if I felt a tap or pull on the first swing of the fly, I would make the same cast again and nine out of ten times I’d hook the fish. Whether it was the same fish that was giving me the tap on the previous cast is anyone’s guess. And before the traditionalists challenge this approach, it isn’t a question of chucking and hoping. There is real skill in getting the streamer to fish properly and cover water efficiently. I did, however, lose an absolute leviathan that would have dwarfed the biggest fish I had last season. I dropped the fly so it drifted through a section of pocket water, which was broken up by boulders, and the line just stopped halfway across. As soon as I lifted into the fish it went airborne. The fish threw its head from side to side whilst cartwheeling down the fast water and my line was bouncing off rocks. I knew I was in trouble from the second I hooked it but I ran after it, tripping over rocks hoping that it would get into the pool below. But unfortunately, just as I was beginning to get some sort of control, the fish jumped again and I saw the fly ping from its mouth in slow motion… There’s no point in saying what it may have weighed but it was almost scary. The disappointment of losing it was heart breaking and I have thought about it a lot, I did nothing wrong, it was just one of those things.
"The fish threw its head from side to side whilst cartwheeling down the fast water and my line was bouncing off rocks"
I lost count of the amount of times I broke my personal best last season but the first time was on our first fishing trip of the year to Wales and the last time was in the early summer in the North. I know there are a few rivers that are well known for producing big brownies but I haven’t got to them yet. The challenge and enjoyment for me is going somewhere new, only rumoured to hold big fish and getting a glimpse of one. Whether that glimpse is whilst I’m attached to it or I spook a big angry fish cruising in the shallows looking for big stoneflies, both are very exciting.
This season will be another of pure excitement and as the winter is beginning to run its course, I’m counting down the days until I can get out to cast a fly at some early-season trout. The beginning of the season is my favourite time of year for targeting big fish as they are hungry after a long, harsh winter and can be fairly eager to come to a fly. Over the next 6 weeks we’ll slowly see the drab greys of winter turn into spring and I’m sure I can speak for all fly fisherman and woman out there that we’ll be optimistically preparing gear and doing vital research to make our seasons as productive as possible. Tight lines for the season to come and look after the fish you catch! - HM
Fred heads up the Instagram account @flyfishing_uk so take a look and give him a follow to stay up to date with his adventures!
NOTE: When planning a trip in search of wild waters to fish, always check with land owners and ensure permits are sought if required. Don't fish out of season and take care of all fish when unhooking and releasing