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The finest fly fishing in Yorkshire can be found on the River Wharfe

PUBLISHED: 22:09 15 September 2012 | UPDATED: 20:53 19 November 2017

On the Wharfe. Photograph by John Britton

On the Wharfe. Photograph by John Britton

The finest fly fishing in Yorkshire can be found on the River Wharfe says expert Frank Anslow

Fishermen have never had it quite so good on the River Wharfe and it looks as if it is going to get even better.

The Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust is making significant improvements to the river over the next few years which include pollution control and easing erosion by fencing off and ideally creating 10 metre buffer zones between the fence and the river, allowing vegetation to grow, preventing cattle trampling the embankments and increasing sediment in the river.

But fly fishing on the Wharfe is excellent and rivals any river in the country.

During spring and summer there are consistent fly hatches throughout the day and the opportunities for dry fly fishing are plentiful.

The Wharfe begins at Langstrothdale in the Yorkshire Dales and runs along a narrow valley which opens out at Buckden. On its journey through the Dales the river passes through some of the finest scenery there is.

The character of the river varies significantly throughout its fly fishable length, from Buckden in its upper reaches, to just below Otley, where coarse fishing takes over.

The favoured methods on the Wharfe are upstream dry fly fishing as well as upstream and downstream wet fly and nymph fishing.

The traditional ‘North Country’ spider patterns have been particular favourites for many anglers for generations.

The Buckden to Kettlewell stretch is bounded by open fields and has good dry fly fishing for mainly wild brown trout. The opportunities for upstream and downstream wet fly and nymph fishing are limited by periods of drought.

Between Kettlewell and Kilnsey the River Skirfare joins the Wharfe and this opens up much better opportunities as the water volume increases and continues its flow through to Grassington. But grayling are scarce at Grassington.

Steve Rhodes, chairman of the Grayling Society and a fly fishing instructor and a fly fishing guide, who has fished on the Wharfe for over 40 years, said: ‘The population of grayling has decreased considerably in the upper reaches of the Wharfe in recent years.

‘In earlier decades grayling could be found as far upstream as Kettlewell, regrettably this is no longer the case.’

As the Wharfe meanders its way from Grassington through Burnsall it is joined by Dibb Beck, just south of Burnsall. The character of the river changes again from this point, gaining significant volume and momentum as it runs through to and beyond Bolton Abbey.

Even in times of drought, good fly fishing conditions are available on this stretch of the river. ‘The fly fishing between Burnsall and the bottom end of the Bolton Abbey beat is, in my opinion, the best fly fishing available on the River Wharfe,’ added Steve.

The Wharfe is stocked with brown trout of varying size from Kettlewell through to Bolton Abbey. This is a significant stretch of water that passes between various angling clubs each of which have its own stocking arrangements. It is also an area of outstanding beauty with the river passing through a valley bounded by rolling hills and trees.

The fishing almost seems secondary to the wonderful scenery and whether you catch a lot of fish or no fish at all you can still enjoy an excellent day out.

Fly fishing opportunities continue beyond Bolton Abbey through to Addingham, Ilkley and Burley where there is a mixture of fly fishing and coarse fishing. There is some stocking of brown trout along this length but it’s quite random. Downstream of Otley the river deepens and becomes slower and coarse fishing takes over with more restricted opportunity for fly fishing for brown trout. However, grayling continue to be present as far down as Boston Spa.

The size of the brown trout has increased in recent years. ‘The trout in the Wharfe were traditionally three to the pound but fish of 3lb plus are now being caught on a regular basis particularly in the Burnsall and Bolton Abbey areas,’ said Steve.

‘The main reason for this is thought to be the ever increasing number of the North American signal crayfish which provide a significant food source for the trout. The numbers of smaller wild brown trout have also increased, probably due to the change in the stocking arrangements by a number of angling clubs. There is a move away from stocking with larger trout and some clubs have stopped stocking altogether over the last few years.’

If you want to learn more about fly fishing and fly fishing tuition on the River Wharfe and other Yorkshire fly fishing venues go to


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