Searching for somewhere new to fish this season without breaking the bank? Why not take a closer look at the river that runs through your local town… or even right at the end of your street? Theo Pike, author of Trout in Dirty Places, provides five great tips for fly fishing on urban rivers in the UK.
Big or small, most of our towns and cities were built on the banks of streams and rivers which now offer some of the best-value fly fishing anywhere in the UK. Sometimes this fishing is controlled by local angling clubs, but just as often you’ll find “free fishing” allowed by the council for no more than the cost of a phone call – and of course your Environment Agency rod license.
So, once you’ve made sure of the legal stuff, what else do you need to get started? Based on many years of fishing urban rivers all over the UK (and sometimes abroad) here are my five top tips for urban fly-fishers:
1: Travel light
If you’re fishing within sight of supermarkets and petrol stations all day, coffee and sandwiches are never far away. So there’s no need to carry every gadget you own (though you may still find the kitchen sink in the next deep pool!)
Take a light rod, a landing net, a few tools and a couple of fly boxes in a chest or sling pack, and you’re free to clamber nimbly up and down flood walls all day long.
2: Fish with a friend
When you’ve done lots of urban fishing, you’ll probably fly solo sometimes. But two’s company for spotting fish, picking errant flies out of trees and brambles, or even deterring dodgy local characters or opportunistic muggers on lonely river banks.
And of course you’ll also want someone to share the moment and take a photo when you catch that fish of a lifetime…
3: Practice careful catch and release
Whether you’re targeting trout, grayling, chub, dace, roach or even barbel in your local urban stream, it’s always important to make sure they go back safely.
To protect the fishy gene pool in rivers which are often still recovering from the ravages of the Industrial Revolution, using debarbed or barbless flies is essential. If you don’t tie your own, Turrall is here to help with this neat little collection of dries, emergers and nymphs, all recommended by champion river fly fisher Chris Ogborne (set of ten available from fly stockists this spring or order online HERE).
4: Stay safe
Many post-industrial rivers run through steep valleys, so water levels can rise surprisingly quickly when rain falls further up the catchment. Always check your emergency escape routes, and don’t think twice about using them if you see telltale signs of a rising river (like sudden muddy water, or more sticks and debris than usual floating on the surface).
Theo casts in London on Wandle Piscators water. Schemes like this are the future of urban fly fishing.
Urban rivers can also suffer from misconnected sewage pipes and other pollution problems, so consider washing your hands before eating, drinking or smoking. Cover any cuts or grazes with waterproof plasters, and ask your doctor to check for Weil’s Disease (a bacterial infection carried in rats’ urine) if you develop flu-like symptoms within three weeks of fishing an urban river.
And, of course, remember that these suggestions are only a starting point, and there’s no substitute for common sense!
5: Look out for aliens
Invasive plants and animals often thrive in places where the natural balance has already been disturbed by human activities. So urban rivers are easy pickings for many non-native species – but you can still take action against them, whether it’s stomping on signal crayfish or uprooting undesirables.
Himalayan Balsam (above) is horrible stuff & bad news for native species.
If you find Himalayan balsam plants already infesting your urban paradise, every shallow-rooted plant you pull up could save the bank side from being smothered by 400 more plants next season. And whenever you visit your new urban paradise, it’s well worth following the Check, Clean, Dry guidelines: some species like killer shrimp can survive on damp kit for 5 days, and crayfish plague spores can be viable for up to 2 weeks. (Click here to view a printable poster with a summary of information)
(For further information on how to recognise and deal with invasive species of many kinds, Theo’s Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing has a wealth of knowledge in a pocket-sized book!).
Recommended Further Reading:
For anyone interested in this fascinating branch of angling, Theo’s book Trout in Dirty Places is a fabulous reference guide to exciting free and low cost urban fly fishing all over the UK. You’ll find a wealth of advice, notes on many conservation projects and dozens of cracking rivers and locations to try from Devon to Glasgow, all in one colourful and comprehensive book. Readers will also find a special foreword by Charles Rangely-Wilson, while a share of profits also go directly to the Wild Trout Trust whose “Trout in the Town” project is aimed at engaging locals and helping urban rivers. Click here to find out more and order your copy.