Camping special - Fishing
Fishing is one of Britain’s most popular pastimes with well over a million active participants. There can’t be many folk who haven’t dangled a worm optimistically into a deep mysterious pool or dipped a net hopefully into the rockpools at the seaside when they were kids and that almost childlike expectation is what keeps die-hard anglers at it all year-round. Many people who were avid anglers as children rediscover the joys of fishing in adulthood and it’s a great way to teach children about nature and the environment.
What many of non-anglers fail to appreciate is that fishing isn’t all about hooking fish – if it was, it would be referred to as ‘catching’ which is patently not the case for the majority of anglers most of the time. No, the beauty of angling is that it gives people a good excuse to sit among beautiful surroundings, staring into space without disturbance. Anyone doing this without props such as tackle, a tin of worms and a Thermos flask is likely to get some concerned looks. Stick a rod in his hand however, and nobody gives them a second thought.
The good news for campers is that a holiday under canvas offers an ideal opportunity to reacquaint oneself with the joys of fishing and maybe introduce the kids to the noble art of angling. Hundreds of campsites up and down the country have fishing on site or nearby and if the fish in question are sustainable species that are suitable for the pot, cooking the catch over a campfire adds another dimension to the quest.
At some sites, it really is a case of ‘a river runs through it’ and campers can literally cast a line right from your tent door. In fact, serious carp anglers spend weeks at a time doing precisely this in pursuit of the elusive 60-pound monster that would secure them a place in the record books.
The obsessive pursuit of notoriously difficult to catch leviathans weighing as much as a small child isn’t what we’d advocate, but picking up some cheap fishing tackle off the Internet and packing it in with the camping gear lends a real sense of mission to an expedition into the great outdoors.
THE THREE DISCIPLINES
Angling is broadly divided into three separate categories: coarse, sea and game fishing. Without dwelling on the deeply entrenched political and cultural differences between them, coarse fishing involves fishing in freshwater for inedible species which are briefly admired and then carefully released back into the water after capture; sea fishing is broadly similar, but takes place in the sea and some of your catch may be taken for the pot. Game fishing involves fishing for the salmon and its relatives and traditionally, everything that was landed was destined for the pot, although plummeting wild fish stocks mean that a more enlightened attitude prevails these days.
The first two disciplines usually involve hurling edible bait a considerable distance into the water and waiting for a bite. The basics can be mastered in an hour or two and the chances of catching at least something are high. Game fishing – particularly when using artificial flies – requires a little more skill to master the casting technique, and we’d recommend having a few lessons with an expert instructor. On the plus side, the tackle is very light and minimalist and there’s no slithery, slimy or wriggly bait to worry about.
Although it varies from region to region, the fishing on offer as part of the package at the majority of sites will be coarse fishing – usually in natural ponds or larger man-made lakes. In the wilder parts of Scotland, some good quality game fishing for wild brown trout may be available, but you are unlikely to come across much free salmon fishing.
To avail yourself of these opportunities, you’ll need some basic gear and either some bait or some artificial flies or lures. Simple fishing kits can be found online or from a local fishing tackle shop and some of the larger commercial campsites offering fishing may have tackle for sale or even to hire.
The simplest coarse fishing set up comprises a fiberglass fishing pole or whip, some shock-absorbing elastic (in case you hook a whopper) some monofilament line, a float, some weights and a hook at the business end.
Attach the bait to the hook, lower it into the water and when the float twitches and then disappears, you’ve got one. Sitting staring at a float is wonderfully mesmeric – akin to a form of meditation – and when you do see signs of activity beneath the surface, it’s wonderfully exciting waiting for the float to dip under or slide away.
Worms and maggots remain popular traditional baits, but if you’re squeamish about wrestling with wriggly critters, there are plenty of alternatives. Luncheon meat, bread, cheese and sweetcorn are all effective and a new generation of high tech artificial baits is gaining in popularity.
For sea fishing from the beach or pier, you’ll need sturdier tackle – including a proper rod, reel and some heavier weights to get the bait far enough or deep enough to find the fish. You’ll also need to practice casting to get the distance required to reach the fish. It can be a slow business and if kids are involved, they are likely to get bored well before you catch that all-important first fish, but there are alternatives.
If the nearest beach has some sizable rockpools, go exploring them at low tide with an improvised fishing kit. All you need is a couple of metres of monofilament, a few small barbless hooks (size 12 or 14 are ideal) and a penknife or multi-tool. Find a fishy looking pool – they’re usually at least a foot or so deep and fringed with plenty of weed. Knock a limpet or mussel off the rocks and chop it into quarter or half inch chunks and attach it to the hook and a metre or so of monofilament.
Dangle the tasty morsel on the edge of the weed and give it the odd twitch or two. Remain quiet and still and after a couple of minutes, you should start seeing some interest. Crabs are often first on the scene and these will provide hours of sport, but with a bit of luck, you could also hook a couple of blennies, prompting squeals of delight from the children.
Another exciting option is to go fishing from a charter boat out of the local fishing port. In summer, many seaside resorts offer short mackerel fishing trips just a mile or so offshore and the chances of catching are almost guaranteed. Tackle and bait are usually provided and you’ll also get the chance to take your catch back to the tent and cook it on the barbecue. As long as it’s fresh, it will be delicious.
For more of an adventure, a half or full-day wreck or reef fishing trip can provide a thrilling day’s sport, with the chance of returning with a real trophy like a big cod, bass or bream, which will be equally tasty when cooked on the barbie back on site.
When it comes to game fishing, things get a little bit more complicated, but in parts of Scotland and Wales, this will be all that’s on offer. It takes a while to master the gentle art of fly casting, but it’s a rather elegant skill to acquire and a good instructor will have you putting out a good line in just a couple of hours.
Your instructor should also serve as a guide, pointing out the fishiest spots on the lake or river and helping you get your flies over the fish. Flyfishing requires an altogether more active, yet stealthy approach and the action is much more visual. Watching a wily brown trout rising up through the water column to inspect a fly before devouring it with a mighty gulp makes for a heart-stopping experience and as long as local stocks are healthy, it’s perfectly acceptable to take the odd fish for the table.
LICENCES AND PERMITS
Fishing in the sea is free throughout the United Kingdom and accessible to everyone without the requirement for a permit. If you’re planning a fishing trip to a lake, pond or river in England and Wales however, even if the venue in question is on private land, you need to be in possession of a valid rod licence.
Daily, weekly or annual permits can be purchased at post offices, online or over a dedicated phone line and start at £3.75 per day rising to £72 if you fancy trying for salmon or sea trout. Children under 16 pay just £5 for a whole year, while kids under 12 don’t need a licence. Log onto environment-agency.gov.uk or call 0844 800 5386.
As well as a licence, unless the fishing is included in your pitch fees, you’ll also need a permit to fish most privately owned waters. Ask at site reception for prices and details.
On the typical campsite pond, you’re likely to encounter perch, roach, rudd, carp, tench and the ever-present sticklebacks and minnows. None of these are edible and after a quick inspection and maybe a snap for the holiday album, they should be returned to the water unharmed.
If the site is near a river, the range of species is likely to include chub and dace and – in some parts of the country – maybe the odd trout.
On large stocked fisheries, trout are often the sole quarry, whether that’s the native brown trout or the muscular rainbow trout – an American import that has thrived over here. Both these fish make good eating and are very easy to prepare.
At the seaside, the variety of species extends still further, but species you’re most likely to encounter when fishing from the beach, rocks or pier include: whiting, dab, flounder, pollack, wrasse, dogfish, bass, mullet and the ubiquitous mackerel. Although two of the most commonly caught species: wrasse and dogfish aren’t really fit for the pot, many of these fish are edible and would make an exciting addition to the evening barbecue.
The sustainability of our fish stocks are becoming a big issue and while we Brits are sometimes a bit squeamish about eating what we catch, in reality, many of the fish caught on rod and line are perfectly legitimate to take home for tea.
Our national obsession with cod and haddock deep-fried in batter has seen stocks of these species plummet to dangerously low levels and we are now being encouraged to experiment with more sustainable alternatives.
Fresh mackerel is delicious grilled or flash-fried and whiting and pollack make great alternatives to cod. For a fantastic introduction to catching and cooking your own fish, I strongly recommend getting hold of a copy of The River Cottage Fish Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
SITES TO VISIT FOR COARSE FISHING
WAVENEY RIVER CENTRE
Staithe Road, Burgh St Peter, Norfolk NR34 0BT
Tel 01502 677343
Open All Year
Well-run commercial site in the Norfolk Broads where you can, quite literally, fish from your tent door. Some of the pitches are located on grassy terraces adjoining the river Waveney near Burgh St Peter while others overlook the pretty little marina.
Facilities include wash-up area with hot and cold running water, brand new heated shower and toilet block, launderette with washing machines, tumble dryers, iron and a large sink, all open 24 hours a day.
Waveney River Centre also offers a children's play area, family-friendly pub, pool, cafe and a large convenience store and off-licence. A very family-friendly site with a strict no noise policy after 9pm and an ideal base from which to explore the whole Broadland region either by boat, on foot or by bicycle.
Back Lane, Kingston Seymour, North Somerset BS21 6XA
Tel 01934 835020
Open All year
This 2.5-acre campsite is adjacent to the well-established fishing lakes, which was recently voted one of the top 50 fisheries in the UK by the Angling Times. Drinking water and chemical disposal point plus showers and toilets are situated in the fishing car park. Refreshments are available from an on-site café
Established in 1995, Bullock Farm is in the lovely rural, coastal, countryside village of Kingston Seymour, regularly North Somerset's Best Kept Small Village.
The coarse fishing lake complex (five lakes including specimen Carp Lake) is just 4.5 miles from Junction 20 of the M5 and 15 miles south of the city of Bristol. Day tickets are £7 Adults, £5 Junior/OAP/Disabled.
ELVINGTON FISHERIES CAMPING AND CARAVAN SITE
Lake Cottage, Wheldrake Lane, Elvington, York YO41 4AZ
Tel 01904 607504
Open All Year
This beautifully landscaped site is set in peaceful surroundings around eight miles from York city centre with a number of other tourist attractions within a short driving distance. Facilities at the site are limited, but the villages of Elvington and Wheldrake are just over a mile either side of the site with their shops and pubs serving good food and excellent beer.
The L-shaped lake is approximately 2.5 acres in area and has been established as a fishery for over 35 years with many natural features such as overhanging trees and large weedbeds which give the angler plenty of scope to fish both the margins and out into the lake. Some parts of the lake are wheelchair accessible and can be booked in advance.
SITES TO VISIT FOR SEA FISHING
90 Camp Road, Wyke Regis, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 9HF
Pebble Bank Caravan Park is situated less than two miles from Weymouth town centre and its Blue Flag Award-winning beach. It’s close to the coastal footpath, on the heritage coast, and the famous Chesil Beach, which runs from Portland to Abbotsbury, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. The tent field is approximately one acre with spectacular views across Portland and Chesil Beach and masses of great sea fishing within a couple of miles. Both Chesil Beach and Portland are excellent shore fishing locations, with both producing mackerel, bass, wrasse and bream in large numbers during the summer months. Weymouth is also one of England’s most popular boat fishing venues and there’s the option of joining a charter fishing trip out into the Channel on one of the port’s many private fishing boats.
Tudweiliog, Nefyn, Pwllheli, Gwynedd LL53 8AQ
Spacious, rambling farm site set in seven acres in the village of Tudweiliog on the north coast of Wales’ wild Llyn Peninsular. This family friendly site has all the modern amenities – including showers, electric hook-ups and Internet access and is very popular with families with young children.
It’s just minutes walk into the village, where there’s a Post Office, shop and pub, and within easy reach of the local beach, from which you can catch bass, mackerel, and flat fish. Good rock-fishing nearby for Pollack and wrasse.
This is an idyllic base for a traditional family holiday with a bit of fishing thrown in.
Glendaruel, By Colintraive, Argyll and Bute PA22 3AB
This award-winning site lies within 22 acres of beautiful mature woodlands in the heart of the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll. It’s a great base from which to explore this remote, undiscovered peninsula and the surrounding islands.
Glendaruel is a sheltered glen, fringed with hills, which is home to rare wildlife and wonderful natural features such as waterfalls on the beautiful River Ruel. The fabulous landscape of the Glen is not just great for the wildlife, it also provides a wonderful range of outdoor activities including walking, cycling and, of course, fishing – either in the River Ruel, which flows right through the site – or on the coast just a couple of miles away.
SITES TO VISIT FOR GAME FISHING
HALTWHISTLE CAMPING AND CARAVANNING CLUB SITE
Burnfoot Park Village, Haltwhistle, Northumberland NE49 0JP
Tel 01434 320106
Set in a clearing in Bellister Wood – once part of the Bellister Castle Estate and now managed by the National Trust – this tree-studded site offers 50 pitches (with some hardstandings offered). On-site is a toilet block with showers, dishwashing facilities and a dog walk.
Fishing is available on the Tyne, which flows right by the site, and is now ranked as the best salmon fishing river in England.
Nearby Haltwhistle town is rich in history and offers a 12th century church as well as five other 'bastles'. There are 22 'Haltwhistle Rings' walks from the site and Hadrian's Wall is just 4 miles away. Note that the site access is via a narrow, steep road.
Clitheroe Camping and Caravanning Club site offers 80 hard-standing pitches and is located right next to the River Ribble, on the outskirts of the bustling market town of Clitheroe.
The river is almost within casting distance of the pitches, making it ideal for the odd early morning or late evening trip before the banks get busy – which they do in summer. The Ribble has plenty of fishing available on a local authority permit available from reception. Good coarse fishing for chub, dace and roach is accessible just a few yards downstream of the campsite and there is also plenty of good quality fly fishing for trout in the Ribble itself and some of its tributaries.
Although the site is well suited to those looking for a bit of peace and quiet, it’s also popular for young families in mid-summer.
RUTLAND CARAVAN AND CAMPING
Park Lane, Greetham, Oakham, Rutland LE15 7FN
Tel 01572 813520
Open All year
THIS well-run site is just a couple of miles off the A1 in the pretty little village of Greetham – around four miles from Rutland Water – the largest stocked trout fishery in England.
This really is the ‘Wembley Stadium’ of trout fishing in England, with more than 3,000 acres to explore – all stocked with plump, silvery rainbow trout. Boats can be hired from the fishing lodge on the south shore and booking a guide for the day should virtually guarantee that you catch. Beginner’s days offer a great introduction to fly fishing.
The site’s owners have invested heavily in extending what was originally a fairly modest farm diversification project into a large site with more than 100 pitches on both grass and hard-standings.
There are plenty of wide-open spaces for children to play and a well-equipped adventure playground near the family camping field. Dogs on leads are also welcome.
Greetham village is blessed with a well-stocked shop and three fine pubs – all of which serve good food and are within comfortable walking distance of the site.
Beecraigs Country Park, The Park Centre, Linlithgow, Lothian EH49 6PL
Tel 01506 844516
Open April-October for tent camping
This well-run site is located with the 900-acre Beecraigs Country Park, which offers a wide range of outdoor pursuits and is famous for producing some of the heaviest rainbow trout in Scotland.
The sheltered 20-acre crystal clear spring-fed loch is ideal for both beginners and more experienced anglers alike and as well as fishing from the bank, boats are also available to hire.
Tent campers have their own dedicated field and the amenities include electric heated toilet blocks, family rooms with showers, children's bath, a laundrette, dish washing room, small play area on the site, public telephone, barbecues and Calor Gas exchange.Show us your catch of the day on our gallery, or read more articles and top camping tips here.