Watching the River Go By
From fishing tackle or shooting clothing at their Pall Mall shop through to taster courses and travelling the world in search of the most covetable beat, illustrious fly fishing specialists Farlows will guide you
Article by Rupert Watkins
There is something deeply therapeutic about fishing; from the patience and perseverance needed through to the chance to absorb the natural world around you, the sport offers the chance to unwind and escape whilst communing with Mother Nature. Whether you are an experienced salmon rod or a neophyte fisherman, since 1840, Farlows has been the name to head to for all of one’s needs. However, despite that “reputation of being the establishment fly fisherman’s store” in Group Marketing Manager Ian Welch’s words, the firm continuously seeks to drive the fishing forward and bring new blood into the sport.
Quite rightly, Ian stresses that, “it’s the staff that make the brand, it’s about giving that fisherman the very best experience,” whether it’s someone’s very first taster session or advising on the best rods and flies to take on the rivers of New Zealand or Chile. The team at Farlow’s is young and passionate, “very much the new generation” in Ian’s words, “you have to respect the heritage and the accumulated experience but also be in tune with now.”
Farlows is very aware it needs to nurture newcomers to the sport. “Unlike many of the team who were introduced to coarse fishing as youngsters,” Ian recalls, “the majority now do come to the sport slightly later.” He sees ever more women coming to the sport and the firm is running a 50:50 campaign throughout 2018; like in other country sports Ian smiles, women usually are far better listeners and pupils. Not only may women make faster learners, but there remains an ongoing debate over whether salmon are attracted to female pheromones; these are clearly left on the fly when a woman fixes the bait though some devotees of this argument have apparently been known to wrap female pubic hair around their lures… As you do…
Over the years Farlows has grown and evolved. In 2000 it merged with Sportfish – originally a mail order company – and now works in conjunction with its Game Fishing Centre at Theale in Berkshire where it hosts its courses. These range from one hour taster sessions to day and three day courses – holding the new fisherman’s hand as they go from their first cast in the centre’s lake on to flowing river. Many customers stay with their original instructor throughout this journey and beyond, “it’s not unusual that customers will just phone up to ask about something specific,” Ian laughs, “and as they’re daydreaming in the office just end up having half an hour’s chat and start planning their next fishing trip!”
Fishing is certainly one of those sports that is heaven to kit obsessives – from clothing to rods and detailed discussions on flies – it is world unto itself. Fishing equipment has continued to develop Ian remarks, over the past few years rod building technology has allowed fishermen to cast ever more accurately. Most top end rods are now made from graphene (originally developed for the aerospace industry), a material which allows the rod to recover better. That said, for those who desire something more traditional and bespoke, Farlows works with custom rod maker Chris Clemes who makes bamboo fly rods. At the other end of the scale, beginners rods are sold for as little as £150, “fishing must be accessible to all and we must keep it so,” Ian comments.
Winston Churchill once called a polo handicap, “a passport to the world” and a love of fishing is in many ways the same. Farlows has long been an expert on world fishing, be that the more traditional ground of Scotland or Norway or the more far-flung in Russia or Chile. In 2017, Farlows Travel was founded to be a single point of expertise; all aspects of a trip can be catered for from equipment, fly suggestions, accommodation and guides. Trout fans head off to New Zealand whilst British Columbia and the Kola Peninsula in Russia are huge draws for salmon fishermen. The Kola Peninsula in particular has seen huge investment with the Atlantic Salmon Reserve being the world’s first conservation area for Atlantic salmon, Sea Trout and Brown Wild Trout.
With such as emphasis on travel and the outdoors, it is unsurprising Farlows nurtures close links with many outdoor and environmental agencies and charities. “We work closely in the UK with bodies such as the Wild Trout Trust and Wye & Usk foundation,” Ian says, “as well as having close links with the River Agency and many of the river fronting landlords.” They also collaborate with various outdoor brands such as Patagonia which donates a percentage of all sales to a number of aquatic projects such as “Save the Blue Heart of Europe,” a programme designed to raise awareness and protect the rivers of the Balkans. These rivers, the most important hotspots for European freshwater bio-diversity with 69 species of fish existing there and nowhere else on the globe, are threatened by over 2,000 hydroelectric projects. At the smaller end of the scale, Farlows is also a supporter of Fishing for Heroes – offering the therapeutic and fresh air benefits of fishing to wounded servicemen and veterans.
Though not a gun maker, Farlows Pall Mall does stock a wide range of shooting gear, Ian remarks they see a steady Middle Eastern clientele for this area – it’s not unknown the store to be briefly closed to be public when some higher profile overseas customers pop in. They are a mecca for US anglers on holiday and find they get a steady tourist footfall intrigued by the Royal Warrant above the door.
After chatting with Ian, it was time for the writer to attempt his first cast. Under the capable eye of Robin Elwes, whose fly fishing pupils have included Eric Clapton and Euan McGregor, whilst I can’t say I mastered the art, a couple of decent casts were teased out of me and I managed not to take anyone’s eye out with the hook. Having never fished before, I think I can see the appeal; it gives time for thought and contemplation and there is certainly the need for patience. There is also a certain satisfaction in winning the cat and mouse like game with the fish.
Given the challenge and the need to bring the young into the sport, it is hardly surprising Farlows has invested in social media. For individuals, it’s a great way to show off their latest haul and for the firm a key way to keep customers informed about new equipment and up and coming locations. Farlows have recently pushed heavily in Instagram and Ian remarks they have seen a gratifying rise in click through rates from that platform; it’s hard to argue with the scenery and the size of the catches as posted in Farlows Travel Instagram. As well as communicating with the young (and older) electronically, Ian points out that children can fish for free at their Theale fishing centre. The firm also work with the Angling Trust to support Scouts gaining their fishing badge.
In all its forms fishing is a sport that allows you to travel the world and – as importantly in our stressed modern day society – take time to oneself to admire and watch the world and countryside around us. It is no surprises Ian remarks, “fishermen are the custodians of the aquatic environment – anglers make great conservationists.” Be you after some smart shooting gear, a rod or just intrigued to give fly fishing a go, Farlows will have your bases covered.
Enquires: Farlows Pall Mall, 9 Pall Mall, St James’s, London SW1Y 5NP / 0207 4841000 / www.farlows.co.uk/
Sportfish Fly Fishing Centre, Theale, Berkshire / 0118 9303860 / www.farlows.co.uk/farlows-fly-fishing-tuition/farlows-tuition