Ever tried trout fishing at Manchester Airport?

Adam Parris-Long

You might have heard of the book and upcoming film ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’, but have you ever tried to hook trout underneath Manchester Airport?

The lapsed tradition of urban fishing is gaining momentum again as the state of rivers in towns and cities across the UK improves. Whereas fly fishing in rivers across the country was common before the industrial age, it was left in ruins after as pollution and waste contaminated urban waters.


But now fishing clubs across the country share knowledge of local spots with improved water standards – meaning that seeing anglers fishing in rivers under grimy viaducts is no longer a rare sight.

“In the last 20 years urban rivers across Britain have undergone a transformation to the extent that species like trout and grayling have now come back to the towns and cities, so it is now possible to go fishing with a fly rod literally outside your office door,” Theo Pike, author of ‘Trout in Dirty Places’, told Yahoo! News.

“It was really a jump in technology brought about the privatisation of water industry and establishment of the environmental agency as a regulator which improved the state of these urban waters. It is an interesting development that people are now starting to see the value of these rivers as community assets,” he added.

Although water quality is much improved, rivers across the country still bear signs of urban decay with litter and debris a common sight.


“Things like trolleys and bikes don’t put us off the water,” said Mr Pike. “Part of the joy of all of this is exploring these obscure places for yourself, it has a real sense of discovery to it.

“Despite this, you have certainly got to be careful in these places. These are definitely not the kind of places built with health and safety in mind. A lot of urban rivers are cut off from their surroundings because the council does not want people to get down there.” 

With populations of trout and other pollution sensitive fish still very fragile, anglers return their catches to the water to keep species from drying up.

Pollution and poisoning of urban waters also makes it unsafe to eat fish caught, but at least you can get a quick photograph in before your catch manages to wriggle away.

“My advice is to look at waters near you, buy an ordinance survey map and see what is on your doorstep,” Mr Pike said.

Top 5 urban spots to fish for trout and grayling

1)    Manchester Airport


Resting just underneath Manchester Airport’s second runway is a little-known culvert that offers trout in the unlikeliest of places. The bridge, which measures approximately 240 metres long and 40 metres high, is a particularly obscure but thriving trout source.

“You have literally got jumbo jets landing over your head, it is extraordinary,” said Mr Pike. “Trout always like living under bridges, they prefer slightly darker environments as they feel safe there.

“When the runway was built there would have been strong considerations made to pollution aspects so it is actually quite safe down there,” he added.

2)    River Tone, Taunton


Overgrown terrain, graffiti-covered walls and discarded shopping trolleys – the River Tone has all the best ingredients for a spot of urban fishing. The unsightly landscape is completed by the Obridge viaduct, a soulless structure which piles traffic above the Tone.

Despite this, work from the Environment Agency has boosted the quality of water – meaning that healthy grayling swim in abundance [as seen inset]. Fishing in particularly urban areas of the Tone needs care, though, as Mr Pike writes: “I might not have risked a multi-fly rig so freely if I’d seen the crusted layers of shopping trolleys in the depths of the pool.”

3)    River Irwell, Manchester


The state of the Irwell suggests that no angler should even begin to consider fishing there. The Environment Agency rating for “chemical and biological water quality” is dire and an 18-20 mile stretch of the river turned orange in 2008, which was described as a “significant pollution incident”.

All the same, the size of trout in the Irwell beggars belief – specimens have been known to reach 10lbs at the lower part of the river.

4)    River Tame, Saddleworth


Parts of the River Tame clearly show that anglers need to be prepared to find stealthy spots and think outside the box. Adrian Grose-Hodge (pictured above) takes such a positioning on the upper Tame, which can be a good place to hook pike, roach and brown trout.

5)    River Don, Sheffield (Hillsborough Stadium pictured)


The flow of the River Don offers fewer private places to fish and comes under the gaze of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium. Although the Don and other popular spots are susceptible to distractions from passersby, Mr Pike says it does not put off fly fishers.

“We do get strange looks from passersby,” he admitted. “It has never really bothered me. So far the worst thing that has happened to me is getting a coke can thrown at me for target practice!

“It is advisable when looking for these places that you don’t go alone as they are forgotten no mans lands in the middle of the city.”