Those wishing for a close encounter with nature will find Yorkshire’s rivers, streams and coastline offer thrills and spills in tranquil surroundings. Fly fishing expert and specialist angling writer Paul Procter explains why Yorkshire is a fisherman’s dream.
Few places exist across the British Isles that are as awe inspiring as the Yorkshire Dales. Chiselled out by Ice Age glaciers the Dales’ rugged, yet intriguing skyline continues to attract visitors from every corner of the world. First time fishers often spend an age simply gawping at picture postcard scenery. As for those who return year on year, their pulse quickens on capturing a glimpse of that classic limestone backdrop once more.
Difficult to tame, vast swathes of the Dales remain untempered by man. Managed using traditional farming practices, in many respects this has helped preserve such cherished countryside. Indeed an iconic image here must surely be herds of sheep grazing on rolling hillsides amidst a maze of drystone walls. Naturally then - sightseers, walkers, photographers, wildlife enthusiasts and holidaymakers are drawn to the county like bees to honey. After all, who could tire of such a stunning landscape?
With a labyrinth of rivers and streams crisscrossing the Dales, sooner rather than later your route is bound to cross tumbling water. Whether you’re a “dyed in the wool” sort of fishermen, or someone harbouring childhood memories of tadpoles scooped up in a pond net, the urge to stop for a quick glance is overwhelming. Peering into the inky depths and wondering what lurks beneath, many will be tempted to try their luck.
Anyone starting out could do a lot worse than paying Kilnsey Park Estate trout fishery a visit. Situated right in the heart of Wharfedale, a complex of intimate lakes gives budding anglers the perfect surroundings in which to learn. Rainbow trout are the principal catch here, which thankfully are often quite obliging. Sympathetic to first timers the estate not only provide essential tackle and advice, they’ll happily arrange an approved fishing instructor to make sure common pitfalls are avoided.
For many the thrill of being connected to a fighting fish is satisfying enough. However, nothing beats sampling the delights of your efforts in terms of freshly prepared trout. Recently, owners Jamie and Amy Roberts have enlisted the talents of Steph Moon - highly respected consultant chef at Rudding Park - who has been persuaded to run a seasonal workshop titled “Lake to Plate” at Kilnsey Park.
These exciting courses involve an introduction to trout fishing under the watchful gaze of fishing instructors. Successful anglers then return indoors with their quarry to learn the finer points of preparing trout for the table. A wonderful communicator and brimming in kitchen skills, whatever your culinary abilities Steph will have you knocking up food fit for a king in no time. A modest chef, naturally she argued that fresh produce is the secret. That said, Steph has a reputation for producing dish after dish of delicious tasting fayre with consummate ease.
Once you’ve earned a stripe by learning to tempt, play, land and carefully handle your catch then many look to spread their wings to neighbouring stillwaters, lakes or reservoirs. Places like Leighton Reservoir, Scar House, Gouthwaite, or Fewston and Swinsty all nestle in North Yorkshire’s windswept moors that are waiting to be explored. Understandably, their vastness might seem daunting at first sight, yet we’d all do well to remember fish find much of their food only a stone’s throw from the margins, well within casting range!
While fisheries like Kilnsey Park should be applauded for bringing angling and the outdoors to the masses, if escapism takes your fancy, Yorkshire’s more desolate slopes provide a true sense of solitude. Seeping out of limestone fissures, tiny fingers of water tumbling over mossy boulders are home to native brown trout that are as wild as neighbouring surroundings and it’s here those with adventure coursing through their veins can wander until their hearts are content.
As aquatic bugs are thin on the ground, trout tend to look upwards for lunch when any unsuspecting flies that drop in, like daddy long legs for example, will eagerly be snapped up.
This is fishing at its rawest when any bushy looking dry fly flicked into a likely frothing pool is bound to summon a response.
Of course, don’t run away with any idea of glass case specimens as life is hard in these frigid waters, so trout rarely grow larger than half a pound or so. These fish might be modest in size, however one thing’s for sure, with ruby red spots decorating their flanks and bristling fins there’s a real sense of achievement when you fool one. In many respects as such trout remain our legacy, they are better off being turned loose. This of course ensures sufficient breeding stock for future generations, so our children’s children can enjoy that indescribable feeling of hooking a fish in isolated surroundings.
As infant streams converge, rivers are formed. Much broader and deeper these support not only a greater number of invertebrates, but more diverse fish populations too. With their huge dorsal fin and sleek, silvery flanks, grayling are held in high regard amongst both coarse and game fishermen. More importantly, susceptible to pollution they’re considered a litmus paper, informing us that water quality remains good where they occur. It’s pleasing to report grayling are frequently found throughout the region with the rivers Aire, Nidd, Swale, Ure and Wharfe still considered strongholds for this sensitive gamefish.
Talking of gamefish, word has it that Atlantic salmon have been making a bit of a comeback throughout Yorkshire recently. In particular, the River Ure seems to be on everyone’s lips as it is on the cusp of being labelled one of the finest salmon fishing rivers in England. A concerted ecological and environmental effort by The Ure Salmon Trust on the river in North Yorkshire is paying off. Salmon of 20lbs are being caught more regularly with fish of 30lbs recorded recently. The river is now attracting anglers from as far away as Scandinavia and the USA who have their sights set on landing large specimen fish.
The Ure Salmon Trust was launched seven years ago to revitalise the population and thanks to them, the river and its anglers are reaping the benefits.
Be it the golden sandy beaches or rocky outcrops, miles of Yorkshire’s coastline offer unsurpassed angling opportunities and will captivate those who are drawn to the tangy aroma of salt air. Nothing compares with setting up camp on a lonely beach and fishing the tide in. Here, time simply slips by as you wait for that telltale “tap-tap” of an interested fish. Here, you’re at one with nature as aside from crashing waves, the only sounds are likely to be a distant cry from a curlew or oystercatcher. Flounders, plaice and the odd turbot will keep you entertained though sea bass or mackerel are in the offing too. Head to more rocky ground, where deep water supports a verdant kelp forest and you can expect to do battle with cod, pollack with the occasional wrasse thrown in. Be warned though, these fish have power to spare, easily robbing you of terminal tackle if you give them an inch. Well known in fishing circles is the “North Country” style of fooling trout that principally involves three sparely dressed wet flies (spiders) presented to trout on a short line.
Such talk sounds gobbledygook to newcomers, yet in practice a single fly or bait for that matter dabbled in a frothing pool or along a lake edge will often have the fish queueing up. Whatever your preference then, catering for a total beginner to the seasoned rod, Yorkshire has it in abundance!
Paul Proctor was a guest of Kilnsey Park Estate near Skipton in North Yorkshire. Call 01756 752 150 or go to www.kilnseypark.co.uk.