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Jamie Noon: From Try Line to Fly Line

Jamie Noon: From Try Line to Fly Line

Throughout my career as a rugby player, I was 100% focused on every element of my profession, analysing in detail each aspect of my game and constantly pushing myself to the maximum both physically and mentally. This pressure inevitably overflowed into my personal life as I made a daily effort to prepare for the 80-minute match on the weekend. I had to constantly be aware of what I ate and drank, how much I slept and rested and which activities I did that wouldn’t impact my game.

How Fishing Found Me

Now that I am retired from rugby, I look back on it with great fondness, I loved it. However, I found at the time I needed another outlet to distract me from all the pressure. At first, I had my studies at Northumbria University to finish but soon after I was on the lookout for hobbies. Like many a sportsman I tried my hand at golf with my teammates, but I found it frustrating and not at all sociable as I was often by myself with my ball in the bushes instead of on the green with my friends! 

Jamie Noon playing for England, with Danny CiprianiJamie Noon playing for England, with Danny Cipriani
Jamie Noon playing for England, with Danny Cipriani
Jamie Noon playing for Brive in France, running through the defensive line hardJamie Noon playing for Brive in France, running through the defensive line hard
Jamie Noon playing for Brive in France

So, this is how fishing found me. I had a great friend and fellow player, Nick Makin or Mako (like the fish) who would go sea fishing on his day off on the pier or the beach in North Shields. One time he invited me along and I instantly took to it. The anticipation of the catch, the variety of the fish we caught and being out in nature just captured my interest. Whilst fishing we would chat about life and not just rugby and I found the stress and worries were left to one side for the afternoon.

This led to me buying some fishing equipment and trying to improve my knowledge and skills. Whenever I was in Newcastle and not away with the England team, I’d try to find time for a spot of fishing and banter with Mako. Unfortunately, though, our excursions together were not to last as Mako made the decision to change rugby clubs and moved away from the region.

Progressing to Fly Fishing

It wasn’t the same fishing alone and I still felt I needed someone’s help and guidance, so I was on the lookout for a new partner in crime. My oldest friend at Newcastle Falcons, Micky Ward told me he had a mate that fished so I jumped at the chance to get the rod out again. However, my new fishing friend wasn’t into sea fishing but fly fishing. The little fishing knowledge I had was no help now. I decided to go along and give it a go anyway. I had many a frustrating afternoon undoing my wind knots or trying to save his flies from the trees. Fly fishing was more technical and there’s so much more information, even just the vast array of flies made it a challenge.

After a while, I started to find the same advantages and enjoyment with fly fishing as I had with sea fishing. I enjoyed the company and the relaxation and it really helped my stress levels. I had to work on my patience but because I was so focused on my fly, indicator or fly line, I left all my anxieties behind me. I found solace in the quietude, the rhythmic casting of the line and the connection with the natural environment. Fly fishing took me to beautiful places in nature where the air was clean and I was surrounded by creatures. The sounds and smells were pleasing and I found I was able to relax and reset any mental fatigue.

Jamie Noon in the middle of the river by a French town fly fishingJamie Noon in the middle of the river by a French town fly fishing
Jamie discovers the world of fly fishing

I was very lucky that during my time with England Rugby, I was able to lean on the experience and expertise of those at Hardy and Greys who were only based a short drive from me in Alnwick. They invited me to fish in places I had never been to, showed me new techniques and tried to correct my many faults. The people involved with Hardy and Greys are some of the most knowledgeable in the sport. People like Howard Croston who has fished for England in the World Championships multiple times and has won it twice (both at individual and team level). I still cherish their guidance and try to apply the techniques learned even now.

Relocating to France

After playing for 11 years in the North East with Newcastle Falcons and fishing its beautiful surrounding rivers, an opportunity came up for me to move to France and play for Brive in the Top 14. A move to France was always on my bucket list but with three young children, my wife and I felt it was now or never, so we packed up and off we went.

In France I did try to connect with other fly fishermen initially, but it wasn’t easy with my pidgin French and limited connections. Life was very hectic settling into our new home, adjusting to a new club and style of rugby, as well as learning a new language and culture. Fishing inevitably got put on hold as we settled into our new life. This unfortunately continued as my rugby career came to an end and I focused on a new career and becoming a rugby agent.

In hindsight, this is when I probably needed the benefits of fly fishing the most. I struggled with retirement, I missed my teammates, the common team goals, sense of purpose and direction and I felt like I had lost my identity. Learning my new profession came with new pressures and anxieties that I now know fishing would have medicated.

After retiring from rugby, we decided to make Brive our forever home as it is all our children know and we are happy here. Brive is in an area of France called the Correze, not far from the popular holiday destination, the Dordogne. We are never far away from lush green, picturesque nature with beautiful rivers and plenty of fish perfect for fly fishing. There is even a famous cockerel from this area whose feathers are world renowned for fly tying, the Coq Limousine.  

Jamie with a lovely graylingJamie with a lovely grayling
Jamie with a lovely grayling
Jamie with a lovely little brownieJamie with a lovely little brownie
Jamie with a lovely little brownie

Discovering Fly Fishing in France

During the years since we left the UK, I fished occasionally but I really rediscovered my love for fishing when I met one of my neighbours, Jean Pierre. He was a fishing fanatic and explained to me that he moved from Paris to live here because of the River Dordogne and its fishing. Going fishing ‘French style’ was a completely new experience for me. In the past, I never had many days available to fish so when I did, I would make the most of the day, leave early and fish all day with only a short sandwich break to maximize my experience.

Jean Pierre, however, would leave early morning, open a bottle of wine to christen the day’s fishing and wander slowly to his favourite spot and fish. We would meet again at 12 and he would open up a BBQ and set to cook the selection of meat he had brought. At the same time, we would have more wine or beer, pâté, baguettes and fresh tomatoes. The first time I went with him I came away slightly tipsy and disappointed to not have been chest high in the river for longer. Now I’ve started to understand JP’s approach and handle my wine better. Fishing for him isn’t about just the fish, it’s about the experience, the friendship, the stories, the food, being in nature and downing tools for the day. 

Jean Pierre fly fishing with a cast on the River Dordogne with stunning French town backdrop as the sceneryJean Pierre fly fishing with a cast on the River Dordogne with stunning French town backdrop as the scenery
Jamie's friend Jean Pierre, fishing 'French style' on the River Dordogne

Benefits of Fly Fishing for Mental Health

During covid, having restrictions on fishing, I decided to attempt to tie my own flies. I had never given it a go before because of a lack of time but now I had loads of time to kill and I needed something else to relieve the stress. With my previously broken bent fingers (the perils of rugby), I didn’t find it easy to start with, but with perseverance, I discovered that it helped me decompartmentalize my worries or problems. Like fishing, it takes patience and I only focus on the fly in front of me, it has all my attention, drawing me away from thinking about anything else. As I’ve improved my skills, I now only use my own flies to fish. I get a lot of satisfaction from it, especially given the effort it takes to get my fat fingers to make it work!

It has become a running joke in our family that I am constantly on the lookout for random materials for my flies. I have been known to come home from a bike ride with roadkill pheasant over my handlebars or check to see if a dead squirrel that one of my kids has told me about would be good for a fly or two. I’ve plucked a pig’s back and the feathers from my Cockrel (which incidentally they don’t appreciate!) and I’ve had a friend deliver a deer hide after a hunting trip. I just love seeing what fly I can transform these materials into.

I’m not a very good fisherman in its purest form, I won’t win the biggest or most fish in any competition, my cast needs lots of work and I’ve still so much to learn. I lose my flies in the trees, I miss takes and get tangled up often. However, I have come to understand that I need fishing and fly tying in my life and it’s not even about the fish for me, thankfully. It has had such a positive impact on my wellbeing and my head space. It continues to be a great way to connect to like-minded people in life and online and I would truly recommend it to everyone, especially those looking for peace.

Tight lines,

Jamie.

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2024-05-14 10:27:00
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