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