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

Who was Helen Shaw?

- By Graham Waterton

Many years ago I was given a small brown oblong cardboard box. Inside is a cleverly folded piece of cardboard which displays two rows of flies. Printed between the two rows is the following 

Dressed by

Art Kade Flycrafters

Sherboygan, Wis


Alongside is typed;

Trout Dry Flies-Special Assortment



The box contains 5 Hendricksons, 8 Quill Gordon's and 5 Light Hendricksons.


I've always felt this was something rather special and recent research suggests that these flies were tied by Helen Shaw one of the most important figures in American fly dressing who was dubbed " The First Lady of Fly Tying" 


I found what reads like an obituary but provides good background. It starts:


Helen Elizabeth Shaw recalled spotting her first trout at the age of three as "love at first sight". Often accompanying her father on fishing journeys, the important relationship of the fly fisherman to his tackle would inspire the young Shaw to quickly learn the trade of the vice. With no formal guides or training, Shaw began by mimicking the work of local tiers near her Wisconsin home. Her inherent ability in this very precise art would have her busily filling orders for local anglers long before her high school graduation.

In the mid 1930's, Shaw's reputation and talents allowed her to collaborate with tackle retailer Art Kade of Sheboygan. Respecting Shaw's considerable skills, Kade allowed her to explore her knowledge of entomology to produce not only exceptional classic wet and dry trout flies, but brilliant deer hair bodied flies of her own design that would entice the most intimidating bass.

During the years of operation at Art Kade Fly Crafters, only a single 1938 catalog was put into print. Though their records show anglers ordering stock as late as 1950, the singly published volume served as the only retail guide to the company's merchandise. Admirers and researchers of Shaw's early work agree unanimously that every fly sold from the retailer was solely tied by Shaw herself.



So, do I have some Helen Shaw originals?

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.