Fly-fishing in Yorkshire: Why God's Own County is one of the world's best kept secrets

It is not entirely JR Hartley’s fault, but he must shoulder some of the blame.

The Yellow Pages advertisement from the 1980s in which an old man attempted to track down an out of print book on fly fishing confirmed what everyone suspected - the sport was a gentle, traditional pursuit, perfect for those in their twilight years.

However, that slightly sleepy reputation may finally be about to be laid to rest with Yorkshire’s rivers now attracting a younger generation of anglers and those leading the revival believe fly fishing could be a major boost to the region’s tourism industry.

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Oscar Boatfield, who runs guided fly fishing trips in and around Pateley Bridge, said: “I was five years old when my granddad took me fishing, and ever since it has been part of my life. I am from Hampshire originally, but I moved up to Yorkshire two years ago because the fishing is so good. I found a new home here and now I want to introduce other people to the sport.

Oscar Boatfield pictured fly-fishing on the River Nidd, Pateley Bridge

“The rivers in Yorkshire offer some of the best trout and grayling fly fishing in the world - honestly, they are one of the sport’s best kept secrets and as the world opens up again I am on something of a mission to get the word out.

“Fly fishing has an international audience and if managed right, it could be a key driver in getting the region’s tourism industry back on its feet after a really difficult 12 months.”

While the pandemic curtailed many pastimes, fly fishing has received an unexpected boost by the enforced lockdowns.

During last year’s fly fishing season, which runs from April to October, the Environment Agency estimated that the sport had attracted more than 100,000 extra participants, many of them looking for a distraction from their own four walls. Women are now the sport’s fastest growing demographic, accounting for a third of all fly fishers.

Mr Boatfield, who represented England at the fly fishing World Championships as a youngster and later coached the national youth team, said: “We’ve also got a lot to thank Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer for as their television series, Gone Fishing, has also done a lot for the sport.

“It showed people just how calming it is to be surrounded by nature and was a great advertisement for fly fishing. However, we need to make sure that the boost the sport has received in the last year doesn’t slip away.

“Fishing can be expensive for novices to get into and it can also be difficult to know where you are legally able to fish. However, fly fishing could be a real game changer for Yorkshire’s tourism industry, so we need to work together to make sure we make the most of the opportunities we have.”

Last year, The Yorkshire Post reported how the return of Atlantic salmon to the River Ure could see Wensleydale rival Iceland, Norway and the Scottish Highlands as one of Europe’s top fly fishing spots. Four decades ago, the picture was very different.

Back then salmon had all but deserted the Ure, but with the fish now thriving, Yorkshire’s waters are becoming a magnet for anglers keen to land a big one.

Experienced fisherman Philip Ellis, who has helped with a hatchery programme, said: “Before the pandemic hit I was already getting inquiries from keen anglers from the USA and France wanting to experience fishing in Yorkshire, and as soon as current travel restrictions relax I have no doubt that people will be queuing up to come to this part of the world.

“Just the other day I caught a 17lb salmon. It was a really impressive fish and I want to give other people the chance to experience that feeling.”

Mr Ellis also believes that fly fishing has untold mental health benefits and dovetails perfectly with the current mindfulness movement.

He said: “Fly fishing is much more than catching fish and over the last year it has been crucial to my own mental good health. When you are out on the river surrounded by mother nature you can’t help but feel better - honestly, it is the best therapy you can get.”