IT'S THE WEEKEND: Get some riverbank relaxation - go fly-fishing

IT'S THE WEEKEND: Get some riverbank relaxation - go fly-fishing

Owners of the Bigwell Fly Fishery, Redbrook, Monmouthshire, Sue and Gary Gray and their dog Georgie Girl

IT'S THE WEEKEND: Get some riverbank relaxation - go fly-fishing

Mike McDonough's catches his first Rainbow trout of the day, which he's keeping for his dinner.

IT'S THE WEEKEND: Get some riverbank relaxation - go fly-fishing

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FLY fishing has been described as the "contemplative man's recreation". Jen Mills visits Monmouthshire to find out whether this is accurate.

"It's the oldest saying, but once you've felt that pull and the thrill of actually having the fish take the fly, you're hooked."

It's undeniably a cheesy line, but Colin Neville, a regular face at Bigwell Fly Fishery in Monmouthshire, says anglers really do fall for the hobby - line, sinker and all.

Colin, 62, said: "It's peaceful. There was a time in my life when I had troubles. The minute you come here, put your fly on the line and start casting, all your troubles disappear. It was the only real relaxation I'd got at that time. My grandson was diagnosed with a brain tumour at four and a half years old. It turned out it wasn't, but that took about a year and a half to find out. This relaxation carried me through that period."

His grandson, now 11, enjoys coming fishing with him at the Redbrook fishery.

It's a place to go with a cool-bag packed with sandwiches and cans of lemonade (lager if you've got nowhere else to be), a cake or two and settle down for the day.

Of course, your picnic may be neglected by the time you leave, as fishing demands too much concentration to be able to munch on a Snickers bar as you cast.

Owner Gary Gray, 57, from Symonds Yat, took over May 1. He has been fishing there for 13 years, and when an opportunity came to take on the running of the fishery he jumped in.

He also stresses that fishing can be a refuge from day-to-day life, telling me he was once so still and absorbed that a kingfisher landed on the end of his rod and just sat there watching the water.

Gary said: "You really do get recharged, even if you don't catch. There's nothing better than getting in in the morning after a beautiful drive seeing the mist on the water."

Certain anglers have a shock to their peaceful day when they get so entranced they fall into the water. If they wear their galoshes this shouldn't be a problem, although Gary jokes: "We charge extra for swimming."

Fishermen and women at the pools range from young children to people in their 90s.Gary says all are welcome, adding "There's no dress code for fly fishing".

The fishery averages around 15 people a day, with 24 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Gary says this is a good number, allowing everyone plenty of space: "The last thing you want is shoulder to shoulder."

Not everyone finds angling easy, as it's a tricky hobby for the amateur. Gary tries to teach me how to cast my line into the water, tantalising the fish with an iridescent fly. Unfortunately, all I succeed in catching is the end of my rod, which puts an end to my fishing career as the tangled mess has to be cut away.

For the pros, the swish of fishing lines whipping back and forth over the water looks effortless, and perhaps it is once your muscles have mastered the flicking motion.

The lines score wavy patterns in the air, but their languid flicks are deceptively dangerous: if you stand behind a line as it whisks backwards, all you're likely to catch is a hook in the eye. One fisherman tells me this is a real danger, showing me a spot in his cheek where a hook once went right through.

Gary has a simple formula for satisfied customers, however: "They need to be happy, they need to catch fish."

There are plenty of fish for them to catch in the fishery's four lakes, with around 700 rainbow trout at any given time, and around 150 added a week. Most come in at 2.5 to 3lb, but there are also some six to twelve pound whoppers, introduced as "sporting fish", which anglers are asked to throw back after catching.

Wild brown trout also swim in and out naturally from the local brook, but anglers aren't likely to lose out on their prizes by them swimming out of the system, because the rainbow trout find it difficult to get over the rocks and waterfalls.

Fly fishing is a tactical game. You may think of bait plucked from a seething nest of maggots, but fly fishermen don't skewer worms on hooks.

It's a much more elegant, and even an artistic skill. Many anglers make their own "flies": little models made from wire, fur, feathers and shimmering material. When they are cast to land on the surface of the water or submerged beneath, fish are tricked into believing they are tasty snacks such as dragonfly, larvae, mayfly or caddisfly.

Whether anglers make their own flies or buy them, most will have a little box of the jewel-like models. To decide which will be most effective, they 'read' the water, looking at weather conditions and visibility levels, and considering which insects are likely to be hatching or feeding at that time.

There are multiple ways you can cast your fly, with exotic names such as the double haul and snake roll.

If you cast a 'dry' fly, one on the surface of the water, you can aim to hook a particular fish. Gary advises it's best to look for fish who are coming to the surface, as that means they are feeding.

Using a finer line will increase your chances of a bite as fish are less likely to notice it, but this also makes the line more likely to break, as a tug on the line is no guarantee the fish can be reeled in.

Be too aggressive and the line will simply snap, the fish escaping back to freedom. You need to subtly bring the fish in towards you until you can swoop it up in your net.

Your opponent is likely to put up a spirited fight. Gary says: "It's his last run for freedom so he puts every last muscle into it."

One fisherman, Michael McDonough, had finally landed his first trout, a three pounder, when we caught sight of him across the water. He said: "Last time I didn't catch any, but the 13-year-old who was with us caught five." Sipping from a drink of dandelion and burdock, he was already looking forward to his hard-won dinner.

But what's the best way to enjoy your catch? Gary recommends the simplest way is the best: grilled on a BBQ.

Bigwells Fly Fishery charges £15 for ten fish caught and released, or £15 for all day catch and kill, which includes the first fish. There is an extra £4 charge for each fish caught subsequently. For more information phone 01600 772904.

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