All the fun of the fair

David Pro­fumo is struck by the cut­ting-edge tackle on of­fer at the Lon­don Fly Fish­ing Fair

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

LAST month, I at­tended the in­au­gu­ral Lon­don Fly Fish­ing Fair in Is­ling­ton. My jour­ney be­gan on the Pic­cadilly Line and I ended up be­ing trans­ported to Patag­o­nia, Poly­ne­sia and beyond.

It’s un­cer­tain ex­actly how many an­glers there are in Bri­tain to­day—once, it was nearly four mil­lion, but my hunch is it’s now half that. Our pas­time needs all the en­cour­age­ment it can get and, as we looked down on the teem­ing floor of the Business De­sign Cen­tre, where en­ter­pris­ing or­gan­iser John Kel­ley had as­sem­bled some 70 spe­cial­ist ex­hibitors, I had to con­grat­u­late him on con­jur­ing up such sup­port from a some­times com­pla­cent in­dus­try.

From the Bent­ley 4x4 in the foyer to the long line of fly­dressers ex­pertly tend­ing their vices, I was re­minded just what a var­ied pur­suit fish­ing re­ally is.

The pro­ceed­ings were stylishly opened by my old chum Char­lie Jar­dine, who gave an out­stand­ing cast­ing demon­stra­tion and com­men­tary (also em­bar­rass­ing me in my ring­side seat by ask­ing a tech­ni­cal ques­tion about gud­geon tackle). Char­lie is one of coun­try sport’s great am­bas­sadors—back in the days when it was an un­al­loyed com­pli­ment, he was once dubbed ‘the David Beck­ham of fly-fish­ing’—and he played to a packed crowd.

The sarto­rial spec­trum was strangely re­as­sur­ing, from hood­ies to pin­stripes, with plenty of el­e­gant women (one in full Aus­trian na­tional cos­tume) and the in­evitable burly chaps in shades and flats. Char­lie waded the cast­ing pool in rolledup jeans.

On my ini­tial rounds, I was struck by the sheer num­ber of niche travel op­er­a­tors, the pro­fes­sion­al­i­sa­tion of guide ser­vices and the evolv­ing in­ge­nu­ity of tackle. For a gearhog like your cor­re­spon­dent, this fair was dan­ger­ously ap­petis­ing and the kit was all cut­ting-edge— none of that sale-rail stuff you so of­ten see else­where. The stalls were staffed by a mix­ture of stal­warts and su­per­stars and all credit to the com­pa­nies that got be­hind such a new un­der­tak­ing; I heartily hope it will be­come an an­nual fix­ture.

In­ter­na­tional out­fit­ters in­cluded the re­source­ful Matt Mchugh (Fly Odyssey), through whom I am tak­ing three trips this year; Gavin Hodg­son (Flats­bag), who runs be­spoke salt­wa­ter ex­pe­di­tions; Wayne Mcgee (Alaska Tro­phy Ad­ven­tures Lodge, where I’m head­ing in July) and those big hit­ters Aard­vark Mcleod and Fron­tiers. There were bar­bel in Spain and Mon­go­lian taimen on of­fer, plus firms or­gan­is­ing sport in Ice­land, Nor­way, the Ba­hamas, Ire­land and Slove­nia. Big-screen video shows fea­tured Kam­chatka rain­bows eat­ing mice and a chap who paraglides into tarpon coun­try.

Nearer home, I chat­ted with Tay ghillie David Godfrey (from Cargill), Neil Free­man, who runs the fish­ing at Broad­lands, and the new own­ers of scenic Damer­ham lakes in Hamp­shire. There was truly some­thing here for ev­ery­one.

In The Com­pleat An­gler, Izaak Wal­ton de­scribes a coun­try fair as fea­tur­ing a be­wil­der­ing as­sort­ment of ‘gim­cracks… and finnim­bruns’ and there were pis­ca­to­ri­ally re­lated wares on dis­play here that in­cluded fur­ni­ture, an­tiques, art­work, be­spoke cane rods, kayaks and ‘life­style cloth­ing’ (a cat­e­gory that I con­fess baf­fles me).

An­gry Duck was re­tail­ing out­landish Ice­landic arte­facts and, at the colour­ful Creel stall, I came across my brother— a fear­some judge—hag­gling over one of its zan­der-skin wal­lets. Pub­lish­ers in­cluded the in­de­fati­ga­ble Paul Mor­gan (Cochy-bonddu Books) with an as­ton­ish­ing ar­ray of ti­tles and the ex­cel­lent Fal­lon’s An­gler mag­a­zine. I think Old Izaak would have ap­proved.

Af­ter be­ing thor­oughly lunched by Keith El­liott, rum­bus­tious ed­i­tor of Clas­sic An­gling, I re-en­tered the lists and be­gan shop­ping. First stop was the mighty Orvis stand, un­der the beady eye of Richard Ban­bury, where I couldn’t re­sist a cammo sling-bag, sold to me by Tenkara ace Vito Ru­bino. Over at Fario Fly, I bought sev­eral lurid ‘com­pe­ti­tion spe­cials’ (in­clud­ing blobs, snakes and a jel­ly­worm se­lec­tion) and Zo­ran Maskovic from Yu Best Fish­ing pro­vided some in­no­va­tive foam­bod­ied hop­pers and dad­dies (watch out this sea­son, all you Itchen brown­ies).

Men­tion in despatches must also go to the char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions that at­tended: Cast­ing for Re­cov­ery, Fish­ing for Forces and, es­pe­cially, Fish­ing 4 Schools, which does such ster­ling work get­ting chil­dren (of­ten with dif­fi­cul­ties) into the great out­doors.

Over­all, the fair felt vig­or­ous and in­spi­ra­tional, with much ban­ter and ca­ma­raderie even among mar­ket com­peti­tors. This is how it should be. Some 3,000 peo­ple vis­ited, mak­ing it a real tri­umph—plus finnim­bruns. Next year’s Lon­don Fly Fish­ing Fair will take place at the Business De­sign Cen­tre, Lon­don N1, from March 10 to 11 (https:// th­elon­don­fly­fish­ing­fair.co.uk; 020–8347 8145)

David Pro­fumo caught his first fish at the age of five and, off the wa­ter, he’s a nov­el­ist and bi­og­ra­pher. He lives up a glen in Perthshire

‘The fair felt vig­or­ous and in­spi­ra­tional, with much ban­ter and ca­ma­raderie

Ev­ery as­pir­ing an­gler needs a stuffed salmon to call his own

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