Learning to Fly...

Champion Nigel Vardy shares how he likes to get outside and use the natural environment to de-stress from everyday life, by fly fishing!

Stress is a funny old thing, and I don’t mean funny Ha, Ha. It creeps upon us form nowhere and can affect life more than a physical impairment. Our minds have the ability to think and overthink problems, until they become so bloated that we loose control. What we need to do is empty our minds and let go.

Fishing has allowed me this basic and beautiful sensation…

I took up coarse fishing as a teenager and continued into my early twenties, until distracted by work and life. Fishing seemed more simple then and I had to carry all my own kit on my own shoulders.

Fly fishing

When I pass a pond or lake these days I see roadways, vans and trailers loaded with gear. People have once again fallen into the trap of needing far too much equipment in the vain process of looking good. I wonder how many of you reading this blog have more coats than you can count, more bags than you can carry and more pairs of boots than a football team. One question - why..?

I rediscovered fishing when climbing in Uganda and found it wonderfully relaxing.

Being close to the water, watching nature and working simply helped me at a time of great pain in my life.

When I returned home I looked around at how I could continue this experience, but in a simple way. My friend Piers invited me to join him Fly Fishing and I have never looked back.

I was and still am, determined to have minimal lightweight kit and the ability to move quickly - just like when I'm on an alpine style mountain ascent. My hands may be battered and my feet sting, but into the water I go and stand thigh deep with nature.

Fluffy Flies

This all sounds simple, yet for me is it the hardest thing. Losing my finger ends makes holding a rod difficult, casting comical and as for tying flies - almost impossible. Losing my toes makes wading a scary experience at times as I cannot feel the river bed until shooting pains scream through my skin grafts. Yet fish I do. How does it work for me..?

Put simply, I need help. Since suffering frostbite I’ve needed help in many situations and I’m very thankful to have found it. People have thought with great imagination about how equipment can be adapted and how I can work with what I have left. This process is still ongoing and though expensive at times, it helps me improve and enjoy the sport more.

The price of fly-fishing season tickets can easily be £1000 a year. I can't afford nor commit to such an expense, but many fisheries and lakes offer day ticket options around the £30 mark. These are certainly worth searching for. One scheme I am trying is the Peak Angling Passport from the Trent Rivers Trust. It works on a token system and allows access to remote beats in the Derbyshire and Staffordshire area at minimal cost. The beautiful countryside makes up for my bad fishing!

I regularly have no idea what time it is and have little care.

The fishing is wonderful enough, but when I fish, time becomes insignificant and nature and I embrace each other. I haven’t worn a watch in over 20 years and we take no phones on a fishing trip. Time passes, the wind rushes through our lines and often the sun begins to set.

Frost bitten fingers

This allows stress to fall away with great speed. It also allows my mind to clear and make decisions which may have troubled me. I find that in the outdoors the toughest choices become the simplest to take. I often see kingfishers, dippers, wagtails, herons, water voles, red squirrels and much more when quiet on the water. Stand peacefully within nature and it will surround you.

Recently, Piers and I travelled to the Isle of Arran for a fishing trip into unknown waters. It was challenging to begin with as on the first day we experienced beautiful sunshine, driving rain and blustery wind. I struggled to cast accurately into the lively pools of the River Sliddery and caught two trees, one blade of grass and lost a fly, but saw Red Squirrels, huge birds of prey and experienced first hand the delightful waters of the south of the island. We saw no-one all day and fought through thick undergrowth to attain the deep pools which sat below bubbling cascades.

It was truly wonderful.


The next morning Storm Ali broke and put paid to the next few days fishing. Rivers swelled beyond safety and the winds made casting ridiculous. We took shelter and armed with the OS explorer 361 Isle of Arran map enjoyed low level walks, explored the islands history and enjoyed at visit to the Arran Distillery (well, it is Scotland!).

As the weather calmed we ventured along the North Sannox Burn finding deep pools and getting the occasional bite from more than just the fish. The famed and feared Scottish Midge was out with a vengeance! With still no luck we retreated home late in the day with happy hearts, but empty bags.

One final fling saw us walking the three mile round trip to Loch Garbad. Nestled high on the moor, this fishery held much promise and though we sank up to our knees in sphagnum moss, the fishing was good with Piers bagging a fine brace of Trout.

A fitting, if damp end to our trip.

Fly Fishing

The day finally came to head across the Firth of Clyde and make for home. What a varied week we had enjoyed. Besides the fishing and the weather, we'd purchased produce from local farms and shops, met many of the island folk, shared stories and laughed a great deal. The pace on Arran is nothing like the mainland which in its own way helped me wind down.

Getting outside doesn’t have to revolve around walking, running, climbing, cycling, canoeing or swimming.

Your lungs can be filled with clean air, your skin cleansed with pure water and your mind emptied to a standstill, just by standing in a river armed with a rod.