A small fish splashes out of the water in a rainbow of colour, sending fine droplets sparkling through the air. It is scooped up in a net before being trapped by strong hands that gently remove a hook from its mouth. Up close, the intricate design of its body is spellbinding. Blue and silver scales armour its body and a large scarlet-tipped dorsal fin protrudes from its back. Turns out this is a signature mark of the species.
‘It’s a grayling,’ confirms freshwater ecologist Dr Paul Gaskell of the Wild Trout Trust before releasing the fish back into the river. ‘These creatures, also called ladies of the stream, are particularly sensitive to dirty water. Their presence here shows just how the quality of the water has improved. It’s hard to believe they are thriving at the heart of one of England’s industrial bastions.’
Indeed, rather than being in some idyllic country brook, Paul is standing waist-deep in the River Don, Sheffield’s main watercourse. Today he is demonstrating the benefits of Japanese Tenkara fly fishing to Jess England, a young fishing enthusiast. A few feet away is a busy bridge where a crowd of onlookers has gathered. It’s definitely not your average fishing expedition.