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

Children of the Storm

- By Graham Waterton

There are occasionally late April days on the chalkstreams reminiscent of summer but with the capriciousness only British weather can produce there are also chill May days that feel two seasons late. Those early cold days can be saved by the appearance of little purple wings.


I am going to quote from JW Hills 1924  book A Summer on the Test before and will do so again as it is not only a classic and a delight to read but full of such quotable and well written passages. Here he describes one such cold Spring day.


'It was as cold a May Day as I remember. The sky was dirty grey, a wild  gusty wind blew from the north, and the young green of the trees seemed to have lost all freshness and brilliance.  The Test ran swift and full, but even its clear water looked dark, dull and forbidding.

Not a fish showed till two o' clock.

I forget what it was that first attracted my attention, probably the splash of a fish, for the water was whipped into such waves that flies and even rises were hard to see. At all events, I suddenly realised that the river, as if by magic, was speckled with iron blues. Blown sideways by the gusts, hurried downstream by the wild wind, children of the storm that they are, on they came, their narrow purple wings looking too delicate to live out the gale, ever more and more of them, till every square foot of the surface carried them. And, equally suddenly, trout began rising, good trout, and rising strongly and well, as they always do in a downstream wind.'


It is a very readable book, unpompous and with an almost modern unfussy style. It was described on the dust sheet of one of the later editions as 'The best book on fishing since Isaak Walton wrote 'The Compleat Angler'. In my view it is a much more enjoyable read and considerably more instructive.


In future blogs I will tell you more about the man but one of his biographers ascribed to him the epithet 'Politician and Angler'.  I wonder which one he would be more proud of today?


Is patience needed in flyfishing?

- By Graham Waterton


Is patience an essential requirement for a good fly fisherman? Roderick Haig-Brown wrote about patience 'I have none and in flyfishing none is needed'.

I fished with and learnt a great deal from a capable and thoughtful fisherman called Hal Thirlaway. He used to say that patience was not the essential fisherman's virtue, it was controlled impatience. Perhaps he developed that view from the book Fly Fishing by Lord Grey of Falloden. In the 'introductory' of the book which was published in 1899. He identifies three main qualities which an angler requires, describes the first two at length and then goes on;

'We have now arrived at two main qualities - the first being a certain physical cleverness and the second an attentive and suggestive mind. But there is a third which seems to me important. It is self-control; for if an angler is really keen, he will have many struggles with himself in the early days.

It is not only in cases of great disasters, however, that the angler needs self control. He is perpetually called upon to use it to withstand small exasperations. There are times when all small things seem adverse, when the hook is perpetually catching in inanimate objects, when unexpected delays and difficulties of various kinds occur at undesirable moments, when fish will rise short, or when they feed greedily on natural flies, and will not look at artificial ones.

People talk sometimes as if a sort of still slow patience were the great quality exercised by angling. It ought much more properly to be called self control,....'   

Controlled impatience or self control?  Much the same in this context but whatever you call it, undoubtably a quality possessed by all the best flyfishers.

Is it luck?

- By Graham Waterton

Why is it that some people catch more fish and some people catch big fish and some catch both? Just luck or that moment when experience and doing all the small things right collides with opportunity?

It's more than just serendipity and I like the way John Gierach describes it in Standing in a River Waving a Stick.

'Down at the core of every fisherman's heart is the belief that on any day something wonderful and unlikely could be made to happen, and that if you're careful and patient it could happen to you.

And although catching a great fish can sometimes look like simple luck, every fisherman knows it's more than that: something like intelligent curiosity combined with cagey, skilful persistence, more like luck at poker than on a slot machine. Whatever you call it, I think a lot of us fish day after day as much for what could happen as for what actually does happen.'

Well put...I certainly do.


- By Graham Waterton

I was grayling fishing on one of the delicious Itchen headwaters in early December, cold and still, about midday. Fish rose for about an hour, to olives. Did I need to know which olive?

It is an over simplification to classify fly fisherman as being in either the presentation or imitation camps but do you need to be able to identify specifically and imitate precisely every food source to catch trout? I rather like Thomas McGuanes sentiment in The Longest Silence.

"My fly box is mainly Adamses in about eight different sizes. In the future I mean to be a fine stream side entomologist. I'm going to start on that when I am much too old to do any of the two thousand things I can think of that are more fun than screening insects in cold running water"

McGuane speaks, of course, with forked tongue ... in other words he has it in both cheeks!  As a serious fisherman he knows the importance of being broadly able to identify and imitate, but knows you don't need the encyclopaedic entomological knowledge that so many strive for. As ever there's a balance.

Personally I used to be just inclined towards imitation, now it's tipped the other way for me.

Anyway ... #16 Para Adams worked. No need for a precise identification, my olives could have been little else at that time of the year, small/medium size, grey wings, short hatch ... Pale Wateries.

The Guides Dilemma

- By Graham Waterton

During the Second World War, Major RD Baird received a letter from his brother who was incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp. The letter implored him to write about his fishing experiences on the upper beats of the River Itchen. He started writing his memoirs, entitled  A Trout Rose,  well after the war by which time he had fished the river, mainly above Winchester, for about 40 years.

This wonderful wild fishery, is now known as The Grange and is where the Itchen, Candover Brook and Arle all meet

'so the three, having found one another journeyed together down to the sea'

It was then owned by Bairds cousin and their river keeper, Walter, lived in Itchen Stoke

 'the dearest and fairest of all Itchen Valley villages'

In those days river keepers often acted as guides for their employers guests and as a guide myself I particularly liked this passage about Walter ... I'm sure all guides will recognise this:

'How Walter managed sometimes to control his feelings used to be a source of amazement to me, for, to the good fisherman the most infuriating of all possible things is to see a fish hopelessly bungled and put down through ineptitude and real bad fishing; in such circumstances he cannot help but long to snatch the rod and get busy with it himself. Walter, expert fisherman as he was, often had to watch this happen, yet never once did he betray what he must have been feeling. Rather would he encourage the bungler to do better next time, help him in every possible way to catch a fish, which he knew would mean so much'.

He couldn't possibly have been thinking about his tip, could he?

It's a charming little book