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

Intoxicating anticipation

- By Graham Waterton

On February 11th the Spey salmon season starts. I am an unashamed fan of this fabulous river having fished it for nearly every one of the last 23 years. The anticipation of a journey to that river still excites and in John Ashley Coopers book The Great Salmon Rivers of Scotland  he wonderfully evokes the thrill of journey and arrival.

'To a fisherman few excitements are comparable to that of arriving by train at a station such as Aviemore, or Carrbridge, and stepping out into the clear invigorating air of Speyside, or of arriving by car after a long drive north past the Cairngorms and down the Spey, with the prospect of  fishing ahead. The first sight of the Spey itself speeding on its downstream course (and how large and powerful it seems!), the wonderful scent of the firs, the broom, and the heather, with Ben Rinnes, the Cromdale Hills, or possibly the distant Cairngorms in the background, all combine to produce a spirit of delightful and well nigh intoxicating anticipation. If it is true that in fishing, as in other things, anticipation often exceeds fulfilment, this is not always the case, and how memorable are the occasions when the reverse happens!'

Although 2013 salmon catches across the UK will probably just be above the previous year and the longer averages, the Spey had a poor year. However I've had bad trips in good years and exceptional catches in the worst years so no statistic will stop me making that journey again to experience the thrill of fishing that stunning river.

I can't wait.

A river that makes you forget

- By Graham Waterton

Frank Sawyer, the river keeper of the Services Dry Fly Association water on the upper Avon wrote his first book, The Keeper of the Stream in 1952. It is a classic and has been republished many times.  Sidney Vines in 1984 wrote Frank Sawyer - Man of the Riverside published in 1984, 4years after Frank Sawyers death. In both books this encounter is retold.

Sawyer keepered the Services water from 1928 throughout the war years.

During the war he met a General on the bank whom he had met as a Captain but had not seen in the intervening period.  After the normal pleasantries and a brief chat the General started fishing. Sawyer describes their meeting later that evening:

' "Sawyer," he said ' I have enjoyed my day, but how differently from what I expected. I came here this morning to be quiet, so that I could have the chance to think over an important paper I have to write, but today this stream and valley have been far removed from war. My report is still unfinished, I have not attempted anything and, for the first time in months, I feel refreshed. What is it about a river that makes you forget?'

Although Sawyer goes on to suggest that it was the peace and happiness of nature that the General had absorbed, I believe his grandson, Nick Sawyer, got closer to the truth in his book Fishing on the Front Line where he quotes his grandfather as saying

'Everyone must work and everyone must have leisure, and to my way of thinking, if the leisure time is to be of any real benefit, the pastime needs to be completely absorbing.'

The point is that effective fishing requires concentration. There is no room for sorting out the worlds problems when rising fish are there to be caught. Fishings absorbing nature has a cleansing effect, an emptying of the mind which enable other problems to be forgotten and then later, when the rod is down, solved.

There are only a few names, when mentioned in the company of true fly fisherman anywhere in the world, that trigger recognition and respect. Frank Sawyer is one of them.

Flyfishing for pike

- By Graham Waterton

With most rivers high and mighty I recently had a session on the Test trying to catch pike on the fly. Counterintuitively, in these conditions it can be easier to find them as they tuck themselves into quiet eddies and hard up against the bank rather than all over the river in their ambush positions. My lovely day reminded me of one of my favourite books.

John Gierach's best fishing buddy was AK Best. By Gierach's many accounts, AK had a quiet, possibly miserable demeanour and a very dry sense of humour. However he made great campfire coffee, was a mean fly dresser and as he said little, a very good fishing companion.

He had some very straightforward views about the hierarchy of fish. Trout at the top, in all their various shapes and sizes and the rest at the bottom. In this brief extract Gierach was considering inviting AK on a pike fishing trip.

".....he doesn't think much of pike. When I pointed out to him once that northern pike not only take flies but are good to eat, he said ' Do me a favour, eat every one of the bastards you catch".

This appears in Trout Bum published in 1988. I came across it in 1994 during a trip to the Halladale, a north coast spate river which, for our week, wasn't.  An hour before breakfast and an hour as it got dark were all the river could take. The rest of the day, whilst a few of the others chased fur and feather across the heather, I tucked into the lodge library. I read the book in one sitting and smiled and chuckled from start to finish. I think he wrote better books but none had the impact of Trout Bum.

Will we ever learn?

- By Graham Waterton


Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing in the Tweed by William Scrope was first published in 1843 with a second edition in 1854. It remains a classic and first edition prices testify to its regard among collectors.

It is essentially a collection of stories with a fair bit of humour and nineteenth century fishing wisdom thrown in. It also has some interesting history but as you might expect their  scientific knowledge as it relates to life cycles for instance was relatively basic.  For some reason it was republished in 1921 with an introduction from one of that times fishing gurus, HT Sheringham.

I have not read the book for decades and I'm not sure I had ever read the new intro, until the other day and this passage struck me between the eyes.

In 1920 the river had what was considered to be the best spring season in its annals, though the autumn fishing was not at all good. But the total catch of fish is very much less than it was early in the last century. In 1816, the record year, the netting return was 54,041 salmon, 120,596 grilse, and 62,074 sea trout. The average return from 1845 to 1849 was 8909 salmon, 39,409 grilse, 35,641 sea trout. From 1895 to 1899 the average return was 7366 salmon, 8458 grilse and 23,746 sea trout. This indicates a serious decrease in the total, though the salmon have not fallen off so much as the others. Pollution, the increased land drainage (of which Scrope complained even in 1842), and the operation of the nets - all, no doubt, have played a part in the decline. Mr W.L. Calderwood*, who makes an interesting study of the Tweed in his Salmon Rivers and Lochs of Scotland (1909), is evidently inclined to think that the netting is the direct cause of it, though he speaks gravely of the pollution too. He is quite convinced that if the netting could be restricted the stock of fish would greatly increase, and that the Tweed, from being chiefly an autumn river, so far as the angler is concerned, would afford spring fishing to compare with that of the Dee  or Spey.

* Calderwood was the Inspector of Salmon Fisheries for Scotland.


Modern day comparisons are difficult and not that helpful. Those figures are for the nets only as rod caught numbers were not recorded at that time, there were more nets operating and almost certainly less rod pressure in those days. That said, a comparison with the net catches for 2012 were 1371 salmon and grilse, and 1162 sea trout. If you add in rod catches it is 14,556 salmon and grilse, and 3314 sea trout.

Of course a lot has changed and there are other contributory factors to our precious salmon stocks declining but isn't it frustrating that excessive netting was identified by the Inspector of Salmon Fisheries of Scotland a hundred years ago.

We must all do whatever we can to ensure the Thin enquiry has all the right information and comes to the right conclusions.

The fishermans weather obsession

- By Graham Waterton

In 1960 HM Bateman wrote a thin volume called The Evening Rise.

Henry Mayo Bateman, an Englishman was born in Australia and after a classic British art school education produced sketches and cartoons for many publications including The Tatler and Punch.

He was best known for his series of cartoons entitled 'The Man Who ...

In later life he lived in Berkshire where I guess he got to know the Lambourn and the Kennet.

In one chapter, ' The Glass' , he examines the fisherman's obsession with the weather, our efforts to predict it and its affect on our fishing. The glass he refers to is of course the barometer a gizmo less seen these days but a measurer of atmospheric pressure and if I had one I'm sure I would become an habitual 'glass tapper'.

'The Glass is our guide, philosopher and friend, as well as a wonderful refuge in excuse. Let us admit it, the weather hardly ever is right for fishing - by that I mean, according to our own ideas of what is right or wrong. On ninety-nine days out of a hundred it is either too bright or too dull, too dry or too wet, and so forth. It is remarkable how courageous and persistent we are in sticking at it. If we obeyed all the signs and orders, as indicated by the glass, we shouldn't go out more often than two or three times during the season'

My  modern equivalent of Batemans glass or barometer is my weather app or truth be told apps. I have become a slave to the weather forecast so kindly delivered to my gadgets.

Great little book, amusing, in an old fashioned 60s sort of a way and illustrated by many of his wonderful line drawings and cartoons.

However I have always stuck to the advice given in Fly Fishing for Salmon edited by Jack Chance.

'Never fail to turn up on the river bank however foul the weather conditions may seem'

Quite right, it is always deeply satisfying to defy the weather gods and catch fish in conditions most others would ignore.