The UK may lack some of the larger and more exotic fish species to be found in warmer climes, but the country’s unique habitat does provide a wealth of opportunities for the four million or so people who decide to wet a line on a regular, or occasional, basis.
Here, angling journalist and freshwater biologist, Ian Welch, selects five of the very best locations based on both the quality of the fishing available and the environment in which it is offered.
RIVER TAY, SCOTLAND
Scottish salmon fishing is world-renowned, and the Tay was the location of the capture of the largest ever rod-caught salmon in Britain, a 64lb fish taken by Miss Georgina Ballantine in 1922, and a specimen which remains the record to this day.
The longest river in Scotland, the Tay rises in the west on the slopes of Ben Lui before flowing easterly across the Highlands, then south-easterly through Perth, to its mouth at the Firth of Tay, south of Dundee.
Long after Miss Ballantine’s catch of the day, fishers seeking the biggest and best Scottish salmon still head to the imposing majesty of the Tay to enjoy strong runs of large fish, with prime, defined, fishing sections (known to fishermen as ‘beats’) such as Islamouth on the lower river, Cargill and Fishponds
Offering prime fishing for anglers in search of barbel, chub and roach, excellent salmon fishing for game rods on the lower beats and prime estuary fishing for sea species such as bass and mullet, the Hampshire Avon is the British river that has it all.
The river rises in Wiltshire and flows through the city of Salisbury before reaching the English Channel via Christchurch Harbour. It has played a large part in the history of modern British angling with the famous Royalty beat at Christchurch – the scene of many epic encounters with giant pike, barbel and salmon – along with plenty of tales of ‘ones that got away…’
RIVER WYE, WYE VALLEY
As with the Hampshire Avon, the River Wye caters for both game and coarse anglers alike with superb opportunities along its course for salmon, pike and barbel. The river is perhaps best known for the quality of its salmon fishing, which has thrived in recent years, largely due to the conservation efforts of the Wye and Usk Foundation.
The Wye rises at Plynlimon in mid Wales and flows through to the Severn estuary, with much of its length forming the border between England and Wales. A spectacular landscape, much of the Wye Valley is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is favoured by canoeists and hikers as well as fishermen in search of salmon and barbel.
In 2017, a beat of the river at Winforton, Hereford, produced a 39lb fish that won the prestigious Charles Farlow Trophy, presented annually by the iconic Pall Mall-based Farlows store, for the capture of the largest salmon caught (and safely returned alive) from an English or Welsh river.
The English chalk streams are a unique habitat – geographers say there are only 210 chalk rivers anywhere in the world, and 160 of them are in England. Of these, the River Test is, arguably, the finest of them all.
Rising from the chalk near the village of Ashe in Hampshire, the river flows for some 40 miles before discharging into its tidal estuary at Southampton Water. The crystal clear alkaline water supports a huge head of invertebrate life with large populations of pristine brown trout and grayling. The middle and upper reaches, with beats such as Mottisfont Abbey, are considered by many to be the Mecca of fly fishing. Lower down the river, there are runs of salmon and sea trout to complete what is truly a fisherman’s paradise.
SPORTFISH GAME FISHING CENTRE
In addition to our marvellous rivers, the UK is also blessed with a wealth of natural loughs, lochs and lakes, as well as manmade reservoirs, gravel pits and pools, most of which offer excellent opportunities for fly and coarse anglers alike.
The one-stop-shop for fishers is Berkshire’s Game Fishing Centre, which is set in 45-acres of countryside and comprises two lakes, home to hard-fighting rainbow, brown, golden and tiger trout. There are superb facilities and a range of ticket options to suit all anglers – including catch and release, private hire and boat fishing. Casting tuition, tackle and sound advice on all aspects of fly fishing are also available onsite.