Wild Camping and Fly Fishing. - Josh Allen

In the age of COVID-19 we’re getting pretty comfortable with isolation. Why not push that to its logical conclusion? Wild camping provides the finest in self-isolation techniques, and there’s nowhere better to isolate, in my opinion, than the mountains, hills and fells of the British Uplands. 

It’s worth noting that wild camping, in England and Wales, is technically not legal, although it is widely considered acceptable providing you are respectful of the environment and are in an area that is sufficiently “out of the way”. In national parks, such as the Lake District and Snowdonia, wild camping is expected and tolerated and you are highly unlikely to receive any trouble, particularly around the high Tarns, lakes and Llyns. In Scotland it’s a different story and wild camping is legal and above board in much of the country. It’s important to endeavour to leave no trace of you having been there – remove all rubbish, fishing line, and other waste. I also always adopt a catch and release approach, handling fish for as short a time as is possible. Usually I unhook in the net underwater and may briefly remove them for a photograph for a matter of seconds before returning them. These high mountain lakes are rare and precious ecosystems and the trout’s existence there is somewhat precipitous. It’s an honour to be able to fish these places and they should be treated with the respect they deserve. 

Lake district fly fishing

A typical lake in the British uplands  

It’s essential, when planning a wild camp, to engage in a certain level of pre-planning. Select a venue that’s within your reach, decide how many nights you plan to stay, pack appropriately for the weather, terrain and duration of your trip and, perhaps most importantly, research the fishing that the area has to offer. High mountain lakes or tarns are generally good places to camp and many contain a head of wild trout. A number of the less accessible lakes offer free fishing but always check beforehand. Some lakes, in Wales especially, are managed by local angling associations and day tickets can be purchased for these waters. Always check who owns the fishing rights before you head out. The English Lake District offers perhaps the best range of free fly-fishing opportunities and the high tarns, for those willing to put in the prerequisite slogging, are fantastic wild fishing venues. The majority are picturesque, quiet lakes boasting crystal clear water and extremely pretty, unpressured trout. Get the conditions right and the action can be non-stop. Other times the fishing can be tricky and it is important to be adaptable with your approach. Luckily fly gear isn’t heavy so taking a diverse range of tackle won’t weigh you down too much.

Fishing and camping allows the intrepid angler to fish at times which are inaccessible to the “day-tripper”. Early morning, night and late evening are generally times when the hiker finds it difficult to be at the lakeside, due to the time it takes to get up to the high lakes and the difficulty in descending in the dark. The camper, however, is free to fish to their heart’s content during the most productive times of the day. I have found that the hour commencing around the time that the sun dips behind the surrounding hills is a magic hour on a lot of these waters, where, on the right day, the sounds of splashy, dramatic takes can be heard all over the lake. During these manic times the action is hot and saucy, my favourite method being a hopper or a daddy being retrieved across the waves at a steady pace or, if there is less wind, twitched slowly on the surface. On the right evenings the dry-fly fishing can continue late into the night. If there’s no action on the surface then a team of traditional wets or, if you’re feeling a bit heathen, a streamer can produce the goods. I’ve found black streamers with lurid beads to be particularly effective in the late evening and into the night in the Lake District tarns.


This high Lake District tarn fish fell for a black hopper twitched across the waves

I tend to over-pack and regret it. I always plan to travel light and have still not managed to quite get that aspect of wild camping perfected. Still I always think its better to be over-prepared than under. A small, lightweight tent, sleeping bag, gas camping stove and cooking equipment are essential. Less essential to many, but not to myself, is coffee. A cup of coffee in the morning has the magic ability to make the wilderness feel like home. For food I don’t think you can go far wrong with ramen, especially the good Korean stuff. But that’s just me, there seems to be a very large selection of space-age dehydrated foods available at outdoors shops now that are all lightweight and seem perfectly edible. The key thing to consider is weight. Water is another vital consideration. Water is heavy stuff and purchasing a water purifier or water purification tablets can save a lot of weight. Where you’re headed there’s no shortage of water. Which brings me on to your next consideration. Waterproof footwear is a very good idea when heading into the hills, especially if you plan to stay up there for any length of time and consider trench-foot something to be avoided. The high lakes and tarns tend to be rough and boggy and the occasional tricksy patch of sphagnum moss will swallow your foot up over your ankle if you’re not careful. I’ve gone in over my knee on supposed “paths” in Snowdonia on more than one occasion. Similarly waterproof jackets or packable cagoules are essential as its almost certainly going to rain while you’re there. 

Stunning colouration on these high mountain trout

The rewards of this kind of fishing don’t come from catching monster trout. They also don't come easily. But if you consider the whole experience of fishing to be as important as the catching of fish, wild camping can provide you with some truly memorable fishing trips. The trout in the high mountain lakes are known not for their size but their beauty. They are truly stunning little fish, fin perfect, beautifully marked and as wild as the pristine lakes they live in. There is an allure to this kind of fishing that, once experienced, will have you coming back for more.

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