“It’s Just Peace” : Students Find Escape in Fly-Fishing
In today’s world of 24/7 social media, FOMO, and increased connection, many understandably search for an escape to find a few moments of peace. Two enterprising students have found that diversion in the art of fly-fishing, often associated with middle-aged businessmen, as a way to restore much needed balance and find some peace in the rivers and creeks that wind through the Scottish countryside.
Fly-fishing, an elevated, more artistic version of fishing, offers a window into Scotland’s beautiful scenery, all while testing the adventurous anglers’ patience and perseverance. I didn’t discover the pastime until recently, when Fiona Moore, a third-year from Colorado – a fly-fishing mecca in the US – mentioned to me that she started a fly-fishing group in St Andrews. I spoke to her and her co-founder Patxi Irazu, a fourth-year from the state of New York, about their journey with fly-fishing in Scotland.
They explained that fly-fishing is an ancient method of angling that usually involves catching trout, salmon, pike, bass, carp, and more. Its origins date back to Macedonian fishermen in 200 AD, who reportedly used wool and feathers to craft flies and attract fish in the Astraeus River in Macedonia.
But modern fly-fishing actually originated in the UK, and specifically in the rocky rivers of Scotland and Northern England. Many aficionados accordingly plan fly-fishing ‘pilgrimages’ to Scotland to chase after rainbow and brown trout – or the odd salmon, pike, and bass – to embrace its heritage, which is rich with fish tales and legend. Fly-fishing in the country is “the equivalent of playing golf on the Old Course,” Irazu says, comparing it to playing eighteen holes on the iconic golf course in St Andrews, said to be the first of its kind.
The main technical difference between fly-fishing and regular fishing is that the former involves a weighted line, or a fly line, to cast an unweighted ‘fly’ crafted to mimic an insect. Where regular ‘spin’ fishing involves launching a weighted object to direct the fishing line, the fly fisher must generate velocity as they cast, artfully launching the line forward as the fly arches behind it. Moreover, fly fishers typically use just three kinds of flies – dry flies, nymphs, and streamers – while the average fisher might test a variety of live and decoy baits. The type of fly a fly fisher uses depends on the water conditions, location, and type of fish they are after.
The fly fishers' intent is to fool a fish into taking a bite at their line. But because fish – and especially trout, the most common prey – are easily scared and hard to catch, the activity requires ample patience and perseverance. Fly fishers must be actively engaged in their craft, having no time to crack open a cold beer – a luxury the typical spin caster might indulge in. They are usually by a river or creek, casting over and over to find where the fish are hiding. The active nature of the pastime, which involves trying out new spots and fish hideouts, makes it an ideal way to become immersed in nature.
Moore and Irazu say they first discovered fly-fishing at home and have since bonded over their shared passion for the pastime. They say that they have created a fly-fishing club to bring more like-minded anglers together. “Fiona had the idea of starting a society where we could get more people that are fly-fishing enthusiasts [involved],” Irazu said.
Starting a club isn’t easy, though. The two anglers have had to organize equipment and transportation and find convenient times for people to set aside four to five hours of their day. Izaru and Moore, however, say that the work pays off. “It's just peace,” Moore said. “Fiona and I could be gone for four five hours and not say a single word to each other,” Patxi says. ”But after we’ll sit right down and have a beer, and it’s a really peaceful moment.”
Both anglers say that the sport is a great way to disconnect from their busy lives, allowing them to focus strictly on the task at hand. They say that the sport has taught them a great deal about patience – especially Moore, who teaches kids to fish over the summer holiday. “I’ve learned from working with kids, especially about myself,” she says of her holiday work. “Teaching them teaches me more about the sport, even if I’m not fishing,”
But the job also has its snags. “I would always get hooked by the kids,” she adds. “I’ve literally had to pull hooks out of my arm.”
While Moore says that her work back home has taught her the sport’s ins-and-outs, she says that learning to fish in Scotland is a unique test in itself. The weather in Colorado is more reliable than the capricious climate and fish of Scotland, where rain often perturbes the peace of its scenic landscapes and bites come few and far between. Moore and Izaru say they struggle to plan around the weather, which is often discouraging. “I think I got frostbite in my toes once,” Fiona says, adding that she and Izaru have often camped out at fishing holes far past sundown without any trophies to show for their work.
But the waiting around also gives way to greater reward, Izaru says, sharing the immense reward of his first catch on a trip to the Highlands. He says that he scored the fish after waiting out on a loch for hours, refusing to leave until he felt a tug on his line. Finally, after hours of trying and all of his friends giving up, the pull of a fish finally arrived. “It was an amazing experience,” Izaru says – “so frustrating, but extremely rewarding.”
For those keen to give fly-fishing a go, Izaru and Moore recommended a trip to Cameron Reservoir, located by the St Andrews Hospital. The reservoir resembles a lake and provides some of the best brown trout fishing, and there is an option to pay a small fee to secure a boat for the day. There is also Goldenloch Fishery, located just outside of Cupar. The Fishery can provide equipment for up to 24 people and offers instructors for all levels and ages. The River Tay, which is known for offering some of the best Atlantic Salmon fishing, is also a popular destination. The river is Scotland’s longest – spanning some 117 miles – and, according to Scotia Fishing, is where Miss Georgina Ballantine broke British record for catching the largest Atlantic Salmon, which weighed in at a remarkable 64lb.
For those willing to travel the extra distance, Izaru and Moore suggest trying the Burnhouse Lochan Fishery, located in the central belt of Scotland, near Glasgow. With over two acres of open water, the Burnhouse Lochan Fishery is stocked with Rainbow and Tiger trout and receives regular visits from Kingfishers, Canada Geese, and other unique wildlife.
As Izaru and Moore build the fly-fishing club, they are working on partnering with the Wild Trout Trust – a conservation charity that aims to improve habitats for trout across the UK and Ireland. The Trust works with other groups and trusts to promote fly-fishing education and share how wildlife appreciators can maintain lakes and keep them stocked with fish and wildlife for years to come. Moore says that they are expecting a representative from the Trust to visit later this semester to advise them on how they can best do their part to maintain the fisheries they frequent. The fly-fishing club’s founders say that they are passionate about the conservation of Scotland and its beauty, and they are excited to learn how to keep Scotland and its lochs at their finest
“I'm super excited that we get to put money into a good cause,” Irazu said. “And, you know, keep Scotland the way it is – beautiful.”
Photo: Fiona Moore