She is described as the new face of angling, but can Yorkshire’s Marina Gibson really turn fishing into a sport for hipsters? Julian Cole met her.
Marina Gibson is 27, has a wide smile, a tumble of blonde hair and 22,000 followers on Instagram. If that description makes her sound like a fashion or food trendsetter, you have grasped the wrong end of the rod.
For Marina is an angler. She is helping to put a fresh face on her sport and had been heralded by The Times newspaper as one of the cool young people who are making angling fashionable.
According to the Angling Trust, more than three million people in Britain now like to fish and angling is one of our most popular sports. Marina leads angling courses and holidays in Britain and abroad, and writes about her sport, too. She might, at a careless glance, look as if she belongs in a fashionable corner of London, but Marina is a countrywoman at heart, a lover of the great outdoors – especially if a river runs through it.
After moving from the capital earlier this year, Marina now lives “in the middle of nowhere” near Leyburn, with her husband and her rescue dog, Sedge. “He’s named after the sedge trout fly,” Marina says.
Sedge goes along on her fishing trips, although his first outing nearly ended in watery mishap. “He jumped into the River Dee and my gillie, Martin Robson, had to grab him before he disappeared, so a lifejacket is a must from now on,” says Marina, who found Sedge on an adoption site featuring strays from Romania. One look at his brown eyes, fox-red fur, white chest and a front paw seemingly dipped in a tin of white paint, and she was smitten. She rescued an ‘immigrant’ dog rather than adopting a home-bred stray because she’d heard that in Romania dogs can be killed by just about anyone.
Marina has had an affinity with water for longer than she can remember and first went fishing with her mother, Joanna Gibson, herself a keen fly fisher. What was that like, asks the man with a pen rather than a rod in his hand? “ I was five – I can’t remember,” she says. I cast another question and Marina says that she spent much of her childhood chasing salmon, trout and sea trout in the Scottish Highlands and lived also in Gloucestershire, Scotland and Devon.
Although she has fished for most of her life, five years ago she took to angling with a renewed passion – and is now a freelance fisher, an angler for hire. She couldn’t be happier or busier. “When you work for yourself, it’s amazing how much work you do,” she says. In the past six months, Marina has driven 17,000 miles running her one-woman angling business, writing for magazines including Fieldsports and The Field, hosting corporate days on the River Test, working as a social media consultant for the London Fly Fishing Fair and representing Orvis, the country pursuits brand with a store in West Park, Harrogate. And all that’s before she even casts a single hook or fly.
As we speak, she is about to head off on two days of fishing courses for families and children. She leads fishing holidays in Britain and around the world, pursuing fish of all shapes and sizes. As she nearly always puts them back, they really are the ‘ones that got away’.
Returning fish to the water helps to protect the species and the environment, as well as providing sport for the next angler along, Marina says. “If I catch wild trout or salmon, I always put them back. If I want to catch a fish to eat, I’ll catch it in a lake.” Show Marina some water and she will always want to fish in it, but fly-fishing is her favourite pursuit. If you ask her to name the biggest fish she has ever landed, she will mention a blue-fin tuna caught in the South of France – a fish that put up a hell of a fight. “They don’t pull away they pull down on your rod. I thought my back was going to break.” Pushed to give that fish a weight, she reckons it topped the scales at 100 pounds. That sounds impressive, not that Marina is one to boast. She comes up with that figure a little reluctantly, and there is a reason for that. “I don’t really weigh my fish at all,” she says. “It’s not about the size of the fish or how much it weighs. It’s about the experience of being in the outdoors in beautiful countryside and enjoying the natural world while you fish. I think we should get away from worrying about the size of the fish.”
As Marina says on her website: “Fishing takes you to some of the most beautiful and remote places on Earth, where all manner of flora and fauna flourish – there is so much more to fishing than just catching fish.”
Ask about the scariest fish she has ever caught, and Marina will offer up the barracuda – and a quick cast on Google lands the following description: “The barracuda is a ray-finned fish known for its large size, fearsome appearance and ferocious behaviour.” Marina also throws in – as well as back – the Tiger fish of Zambia. “They have these big sharp teeth and they look like they’re smiling at you.” Having braved the choppy waters of YouTube, your correspondent can confirm that the Tiger fish is a scary-looking beast with an impressive array of vicious-looking dental work.
Marina loves to introduce people to angling, and is keen to encourage women and children to take up the sport. In Britain angling tends to be dominated by men. “But in the US and Canada, lots more women fish,” says Marina. “And I hope that by teaching children when they are young enough, they will then fall in love with fishing again when they are older.” But with all that driving and travelling, and all that time getting between stretches of water rather than fishing in them, Marina is eager to explore further North Yorkshire’s rivers. Is Yorkshire good for fishing? “They say it’s God’s Own County, don’t they?” says Marina, who is keen to drive less and fish more often on her new doorstep.
To that end she already runs courses for women anglers on the River Tees. And she’s always casting about for new opportunities.