THE REEL screamed as a trout grabbed my seven-year-old son’s lure. Jake gasped with delight – then made a grab for the reel as the fish leapt out of the water.
“Don’t touch the reel,” I yelled, fearful of a snapped line. “Let the fish take the line – then you can reel it in when it runs out of steam.”
A few heartstopping moments later, Jake had the fish safely in his net. His friend, Tris, also seven, already had two fat trout in the boat for his dinner.
“This beats playing on the Wii doesn’t it Jake?” But young Jake was lost in thought, mesmerised by the 2lb slab of silver lying at his feet.
A couple of wily trout had already escaped during some breathtaking action and there was no doubt that the two boys were hooked by their newfound hobby.
We were boat fishing on Bewl Water, a stunning 800 acre reservoir on the Kent/ East Sussex border which is stocked with hard-fighting rainbow, brown and even blue trout. It is a mecca for fly fishermen seeking out the thrill of catching big fish and home to several members of the England fly fishing team.
But we faced the problem most dads encounter when trying to get their young sons away from the computer and into fly fishing – how do you get a seven year-old boy to master the tricky art of casting a fly line – and guarantee he will catch a fish before he gets bored (average attention span for a seven-year-old, 20 minutes)?
The rules at Bewl are fairly strict. It is fly fishing only, a method where anglers imitate a trout’s prey with a hand-tied fly made from natural fur or feathers.
Boat fishermen are only allowed to cast in front of the boat. Towing the fly line behind a moving boat – known as trolling – is banned because it gives fishermen an unfair advantage.
The rules are followed to the letter with many fly fishermen who are adamant that the ancient sport of casting a fly to imitate a live insect is one of the purest forms of angling. It’s a sport which can be traced back to Roman times.
But in 2010, the reservoir’s new owner, shipping and oil magnate Simon Hume-Kendall, is keen to encourage more youngsters to take up the sport, and accepts that trolling – if restricted to youngsters – will give kids that all-important thrill of catching their own fish. The aim is to keep them interested until they are big enough to learn how to cast a fly properly.
Hume-Kendall is so keen to encourage children to take up fishing that he has even built a children’s fishing pond near the kids’ adventure playground where they can learn by catching and releasing small trout and carp for the pocket money sum of £1.
A father and son package means kids under 16 are also allowed to fish free on their dad’s £22 ticket, which allows eight fish to be taken, far more than most people need. A motor boat costs a further £22 for the day and includes hire of lifejackets.
On the water, once Jake and his friend had caught a couple of fish each from the boat, we decided to try bank fishing.
This again can prove testing for novice fly fishermen as casting a fly out far enough to reach the fish can be tricky, especially if there’s a wind. But luck was on our side. The breeze was gentle and the fish were close in.
So within minutes another dad and I had hooked into two more trout. With the rods bending, we quickly handed them over to our sons who then experienced the thrill of playing their first fish from the bank.
Not far away other fishermen were wading in the shallower depths casting flies with names like “Daddy Long Legs” and a particular local favourite – the “booby”.
Staff at Bewl Water’s fishing lodge are on hand to give beginners advice on which parts of the reservoir are fishing well and which flies and tactics are working best.
Rob Barden, a former England fly fisherman and senior instructor at Bewl said he has been running fly fishing summer schools for kids here.
“Youngsters are the future of our sport but most of the fishermen at Bewl are in their forties – or older.
“It’s a shame because when youngsters do come as part of an organised group to let them have a taste of fly fishing they really enjoy it. I taught one lad how to tie his own fly and he caught a fish on that. Even if we get just a couple of kids coming back and carrying on fly fishing then that’s pretty rewarding.”
Barden says that now is a very good time for novices to try their hand at Bewl as the fish are close into the shore and it’s not necessary to cast great distances.
“If you waded out, you would almost be treading on the fish. If you can manage to cast a fly three rod lengths then you’ll get into the trout.”
He is planning a special father-and-son competition in August – an echo of the past when boys went with their dads and their interest was built up from that.
Having part of the reservoir where youngsters can troll a fly line from a moving boat is another idea as it will guarantee they can easily catch a fish.
Environment Agency figures show that last season total fishing licence sales in England and Wales reached the one and a half million mark.
The EA has found that of youngsters who had attended fishing awareness days in Yorkshire, 83 per cent said they would continue fishing if they had the opportunity.
A far as my son Jake is concerned he seems to have taken the bait – although whether the lure of the fly will completely replace the lure of the Wii game remains to be seen.
To arrange a visit or for more info, call 01892890352 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Bewl Water will be holding father and son (13 and under) and mother and daughter competitions on 1 August and 15 August as part of The Environment Agency’s National Fishing Month. Entry will be free for children and half price for adults. www.bewlwater.co.uk