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

After the floods, how long to recover?

- By Graham Waterton


Frank Sawyer was many things: innovative river keeper, inventor of classic trout flies and fishing writer to name but a few. All of these, I believe, came from his acute observation of the river he spent so much time tending and loved so deeply.  With the news so dominated by flooding I remembered this extract from Keeper of the Stream:

'It distresses me to see the flooding of a valley for with it sometimes comes tragedy, not so much perhaps for the aquatic creatures which live in the river and streams but for the thousand others which are part of the valley life. I think sudden flooding is a thing for which nature did not prepare all her family, and a quick rising and overflowing of the river finds some of them at a disadvantage.'

He goes on to describe one particularly significant flash flood which spread down the valley

'It all happened so suddenly. Water swept over the river banks of reach after reach, and flowed out across the meadows like a tidal wave. As the vegetation of the valley was covered, so the surface of the water became alive with panic-stricken, struggling creatures. Moles, shrews and field mice swam side by side, moving from one dry patch of land to another amidst hordes of insects of many descriptions that were milling about and drowning.'

Nature has admirable powers of recovery but what are the short term effects of this significant loss of life? Let's not forget that some water meadows have been underwater for nearly two months. It must have an effect on the food chain of the river valley and how long will it take to recover? I suspect, and hope, surprisingly quickly.

Salmon and water temperature

- By Graham Waterton


In 1975 two of the gods of fishing writing combined to produce a book called Freshwater Fishing.

Nearly 40 years on, some of it is clearly dated and old techniques have evolved and new ones created as tackle has changed, but much of this book remains good fishing common sense. Fred Buller was the freshwater all rounder and Hugh Falkus the game fishing specialist. It is not surprising that the game fish and fishing chapters are lengthy ... clearly Falkus's influence. I have always been curious as to how these two characters collaborated on this book.

One of the decisions for the spring salmon fisher is the size of fly and the depth it should be fished. Much has been written but as far as those decisions and their relationship with water and air temperature go, this extract still has the nub of it.

'Whether he fishes a big fly or a small fly depends on the air and water temperatures. As a rough guide, the big fly is fished when the water temperature is below 48-50 degrees F. The small fly when the water temperature is above 48-50 degrees F. But the air temperature too is important. When the air is warmer than water the small fly is always in with a chance, even with a water temperature as low as 42-44 degrees F. When the air is appreciably colder than the water, the big fly will take fish even when the water temperature is up to 52-54 degrees F. Generally speaking, however, from April/May until late Autumn only the small fly kills.'

So far so good. In my view it is so often the relationship between air and water temperature that is most relevant.  For instance I have caught fish in Iceland in early September in water well under 40 degrees F  but where the air temperature was just higher, on small skated flies.

Slightly more confusing however is their statement:

'Fishing in mid-water with either fly or spinner is seldom profitable'

Not sure about that. Even in warmer water, fish will hug the bottom in deeper pools and will rise up to a fly fished mid water but not to one just under the surface.

Just when you think you're getting the hang of it ...

Days of big chalkstream salmon

- By Graham Waterton


Just as those who participated in The Great War have all gone, so are those who enjoyed the days of large numbers of big chalkstream salmon. Roderick Haig-Brown wrote A River Never Sleeps in 1948. He was born in England in 1908 and spent much of his childhood in rural Dorset on his grandfathers estate. After a spell in British Columbia as a young man, he returned there in the early 1930s to live permanently.

His father fought on The Western Front and was killed at Bapaume in March 1918.

His fishing mentor in Dorset was H M Greenhill and with his labrador Dinah, they fished on the beautiful River Frome. Imagine this:

' "Gosh", I said. "What does it weigh? forty pounds?"

Greenhill shook his head and smiled. " Not quite thirty. We'll see when we get back to the mill." He began to mount a new prawn. "You get on and fish before it's too late. You won't get many days like this one."

So I fished out the rest of the Salmon Water, and near the tail of it an eighteen pounder took me, and I killed him, properly and alone as a salmon fisherman should, even gaffing him myself. As we walked back up towards the mill along the railroad, I felt my face hot and my knees weak from sheer joy; the thirty pound weight of salmon slung clumsily on my back was something I remembered only because it was salmon - salmon Greenhill and I had caught.

I fished many more days with Greenhill. Once I gaffed a forty pounder for him, and within an hour of that he gaffed a twenty-eight pounder for me.'

He wrote 28 books but this one is seen by many as one of his best. The twelve chapters are named after the months but each one rambles across the calendar and the world of fishing. Another lovely read.

He tells of more adventures with Greenhill. Great bonds are formed between boys and their fishing mentors.

'Three weeks later Greenhill went up to shoot pigeons in a wood on a windy hill. He died there, and Dinah howled beside him through the night and part of the next morning'


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.