Fishing Rod Decoration

Fishing Words

I don't have that many fishing books, perhaps a hundred or so, perhaps a few more, I've never really counted. Some of them I have not read; unwanted presents from well meaning relatives but some I have read many times. They never disappoint and real favourites are tattooed with notes, underlinings, highlights and margin scribbles, sacrilege to the bibliophile but a quick way to find old friends that constantly delight. I do so admire those who conjure with words. Here are extracts from some of my favourites.

Fishing Words

By Graham Waterton

Why do we flyfishermen impose rules on ourselves?

- By Graham Waterton


In 2010 Blood Knots  by Luke Jennings was published. One of his mentors as a young man was Robert Nairac, a lover of the dry fly. Here, Jennings ponders on failure, success and the self imposed rules we fly fisherman observe.

'Fishing has its disappointments, its frustrations and its blank days, none of which lessen with the passing of years. There are times when you feel yourself an alien figure in the landscape. Days when, for all your effort and calculation, you just can't read the water. And then there are the times when it all comes right. When the theory falls away, and you and the place are one. Those moments represent a sum of practical experience, although they are also the gift of those who taught you. I understand now why Robert was absolutist in his method, and why he spoke of honour and the dry fly in the same sentence. Because. The rules we impose on ourselves are everything - especially in the face of nature, which, for all its outward poetry, is a slaughterhouse. It's not a question of wilfully making things harder, but of a purity of approach without which success has no meaning. And this, ultimately, was his lesson: that the fiercest joy is to be a spectator of your own conduct and find no cause for complaint.'

Blood Knots is not so much a fishing book, more a personal memoir but fishing is the gold thread that ribs the body of both the authors life and the work. My enjoyment of this book is not just that it is so beautifully written but the author is a similar age to me, came from a similar background and many of the social and cultural references resonate deeply. I too came from a broadly non fishing family and so identify with learning from passing mentors and hard won childhood experiences. There were times and events and places and people in this little book that I recognised the instant I read it.

I read it twice, from cover to cover on a train as we rattled and lurched across beautiful  Tuscan countryside. I could have been anywhere, I was so absorbed.

Please read it, no distractions, let it draw you in.

So you want to be a good caster?

- By Graham Waterton

I've been pondering recently how long it would take to become a really good flycaster. Not just very, very good but a world class fly caster ... all casts, all conditions.

Matthew Syed wrote a intriguing and challenging book called Bounce. It's not a fishing book but anyone who has an interest in sport at any level will be fascinated by the various unconventional conclusions he draws about how world class sportsmen and women are produced. What struck me as an obvious parallel between fly-casting and other more mainstream but complex sports, is how long it takes to become good, really, really good.

'So the question is: How long do you need to practise in order to achieve excellence? Extensive research, it turns out, has come up with a very specific answer to that question: from art to science and from board games to tennis, it has been found that a minimum of ten years is required to reach world-class status in any complex task'.

He argues this fully with many convincing examples and then goes on:

'... most top performers practise for around one thousand hours per year (it is difficult to sustain the quality of practice if you go beyond this), so he re describes the ten year rule as the ten-thousand-hour rule. This is the minimum time necessary for the acquisition of expertise in any complex task'

That's getting on for 3 hours a day for 10 years.

I'm reminded of something I heard many years ago that the gifted amateur sportsman practices in order to always be good but the professional expert sportsman practices more, so that he will never be bad.

I'd like to be a really good caster but bloody fishing keeps getting in the way ... thank God!

Battles With Giant Fish ... an unorthodox ending.

- By Graham Waterton

In 1923, FA Mitchell Hedges wrote Battles With Giant Fish.

The title neatly sums up his style...he was behind the door when they handed out the British art of understatement but his future biographer demonstrated it in spades when he wrote of him that he had 'an inclination to overstate the significance of his adventures' and had a ' propensity for transforming pedestrian exploits into epics of survival and discovery'.

Mitchell Hedges took the average fisherman's tendency to exaggerate to new heights in this boysownian, swashbuckling fishing adventure.

The book describes battle after battle as he fishes his way around The Caribbean throughout 1921 and 1922 with his companion Lady Richmond Brown, who funded the expedition, catching an extraordinary range of large fish. Here he describes the end of an hour long battle with a 300 pound stingray accompanied by his trusty local guide, Griffiths, who he describes as his 'ebony sportsman'. Oh dear.

' on this occasion it must have been considerably over an hour before I was able to get the creature to the surface, when it immediately commenced to thrash the water with its flappers or wings, lashing continually with its tail. With the utmost of care it was slowly manipulated close to the dugout, when I fired four shots from my automatic through its head. This was followed by one terrific flurry, after which it was perfectly quiet.'

I'm not surprised. By today's standards the slaughter was outrageous but this was a time when that was the norm.

He also claims to have caught a 200 pound tarpon, a 1,760 pound tiger shark and a 5,700 pound sawfish. However the photograph of a 40 pound snook looks more like 15!

An extraordinary book written in a way which is enhanced if you to read it with the voice of a 1950s BBC newsreader in your head.

It's worth tracking down a copy if only for the photographs.

Fishing for sea trout in a 'glowing stadium'

- By Graham Waterton

I recently fished Woodmill Pool, the tide pool of the River Itchen on the edge of Southampton.  It is a surreal experience.  In the 'Suburban Sea Trout' chapter of his book, The Accidental Angler, Charles Rangeley-Wilson captures this atmosphere brilliantly.

'Headlight beams from passing traffic swing across me as I fumble with the lock. A police siren wails somewhere on the housing estate to the east. As a background rumble, deeper and softer than the noises of the city that bounce off the yellow sky, I hear the underground sound of water. The River Itchen pours under the road beneath me.

'I stand there wondering where to start and am struck by the incongruity of the fish and the setting. Light spills out of the car park and the lights opposite, and the street lamps outside, and the whole pool is bathed in a smudgy, yellow glow. Wild sea trout - creatures that have no borders, that are migratory, nomadic - are swimming through this glowing stadium.

'At Woodmill the urgent sounds of a city at night rub away any preconception of what sea trout fishing ought to be ... instead, doors slam, there is shouting, and cars pass with the muffled throb of heavy music. The air has a tang to it, especially when the tide goes out and the waterfall fills the air with a damp thrice-through-human-kidneys mist. It is never dark.

'The night is quieter. It's about twelve, or twelve thirty. The last plane passed overhead an hour ago. Most of the lights in the block of flats have gone out, the police sirens have stopped. A few minutes ago I heard two loud bangs like gunshots, but nothing afterwards.  Just the dull hum of a city falling asleep.'

Well that is just as it is, but in case that doesn't quicken your pulse, the other sounds you hear are the regular crashes of huge sea trout doing back flips. Night fishing anywhere can be unearthly if not sometimes downright creepy but this place has an atmosphere unlike anything I have experienced. I would like to catch a big sea-trout but to catch one there would be particularly memorable.

Quite something.

Do steelheaders and salmon fisherman have room temperature IQs?

- By Graham Waterton

Not far under the calm, agreeable, uncontroversial skin of us nice fly fisherman, historic conflicts fester. Halford v Skues; North Country freestone streams v Southern chalkstreams; upstream wet v downstream wet etc. From The Longest Silence, Thomas McGuane recognises that until you try both sides not only won't you get it, but you don't even deserve to be in the argument.

'Angling doesn't turn on stunts. The steady movements of the habitual gatherer produce the best harvest. This of course must be in the service of some real stream knowledge. But some fishing, especially for sea run fish, rewards the robotic capacity for replicating casts, piling up the repetitions until the strike is induced. I once thought that the biggest things a steelheaders or Atlantic Salmon fisherman can have - not counting waders and a stipend - were a big arm and a room temperature IQ. Now I know better, having found out the hard way.'

McGuane learnt the benefits of experience through repetition. I guess many are repelled by the apparent repetitive nature of swinging a fly; 'its all luck' they say.  Amazing how the more you do the luckier you get. Why? Well as he found out the hard way, it isn't as repetitive as his words seem to suggest. Subtle changes of cast and mend give the fisher significant variation. Add the opportunities of size and weight of fly, leader, line and tip density and the permutations are virtually endless. That's why some people catch more salmon than others.

By the way, I like the idea of being an habitual gatherer.