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

Is duffers fortnight a myth?

- By Graham Waterton

'Duffers Fortnight' is a myth. Supposedly it provides the inexperienced flyfisher with fourteen days of easy fishing at the start of the mayfly hatch, at its best, the most spectacular hatch of fly on the English chalkstreams.


There cannot have been many four day periods during the mayfly hatch, let alone fourteen, where fishing is consistently easy. In JW Hills book A Summer on the Test  written in 1924 this very experienced fisherman describes his mayfly experience.


'Mayfly fishing is proverbially uncertain. You get days when trout will take anything, when the most dreadful bungle will not put them down, and when they mind neither thick gut, bad casting nor wretched imitations. But such days are rare. Looking back over many years, I can only remember a few. And, to put against such days, I remember many more when trout were wonderfully difficult, when fish were feeding steadily and yet accurate and delicate fishing met with scanty reward. I am talking, be it noted, of days when all is in the fisherman's favour, when there is not too much fly and trout appear hungry and eager. But you have even greater obstacles to overcome when there is a glut of fly. Both the newly hatched and also the spent insect sometimes come down in masses which no one would believe possible who had not seen them. The water is covered, trout are not taking one fly in a hundred, your artificial has to float among droves of naturals, and there seems no imaginable reason why the fish should ever take it.'


I suspect that modern fly patterns and nylon rather than gut have increased the modern chalkstream fisherman's odds of success but isn't it interesting that before the phrase was invented Hills would have dismissed the notion of a duffers fortnight out of hand. So I hope his comments make you feel better when during one of those spectacular dun hatches or falls of spent fly that you simple can't buy a fish. Your not the first to blank in duffers fortnight. He goes on:


'Why is it that mayfly fishing, except on selected days, is so disappointing? I do not know but it is. Partly, no doubt, it is due to too much fly. Fish get gorged, they allow natural after natural to float past them, and inducing them to take an artificial is a long business.'


So is it the size of the fly that so beguiles us? It's it the vast numbers that hatch? Is it the sight of an area of river covered with rising fish? Well all of those, but for me, particularly on wild fish waters, it is a chance to catch a big trout temporarily dazzled by the abundance of food that for the rest of the year lurk out of sight.



Hills also has a theory that the best days for fishing the mayfly are the fourth and the twelfth from the first day mayfly hatch in numbers. Lets see.


The River Test-The greatest river in the world?

- By Graham Waterton


John Waller Hills, born in 1867, was a solicitor and politician but most of his biographers agree that it was as a fisherman writer that he was best known. He wrote A History of Fly Fishing for Trout in 1921, My Sporting Life in 1936 and his best known book A Summer on The Test in 1924 which had 5 reprinted editions.


It's not just his obvious love for the Test but also his respect for this world famous iconic fishery and those who have fished there with a fly for over 200 hundred years that make his writing so enjoyable.


In the preface he confesses to enjoying two types of water. First the unknown and unfished and secondly the old and famous. Less and less opportunity to do the former in this country although I do understand his sentiment having experienced the joy of long walks to distant hill lochs and catching fish in places which felt as if no one had been before. No bank side foot prints, no rubbish no signs, no rules and an overwhelming satisfaction from catching wild fish from distant wild water.


As for his second choice he wrote:


'but an emotion equally strong, though different, is given by fishing a river which has been fished for centuries. As I walk its banks, I like to think of those who have walked before me, who have seen the same sights as I see, been faced by the same problems, met with the same disasters and rejoiced in the same triumphs. I like to think that they have been there, those men of the long rod and horsehair line, slow and watchful, crafty men of their hand, quietly studying some great trout as I am studying him, and plotting his defeat as I am plotting it. And after much fishing and much musing over its problems, which are at once always the same and always different, and I have turned again to the old writers, and read them with a new light and a new knowledge'


It's a privilege to fish the Test and a joy to fish in the footsteps of such fisherman as J W Hills. In the book he lists some of those who had fished before him.


'Sir Humphrey Davy asked to be an extra member of the Houghton Club for the grayling fishing alone. It sounds like being invited to Leicestershire for the rat hunting. Chantry helped to start the club, and Landseer and Sir Francis Grant were visitors. So indeed was Turner, and his sketches are still in the club journal. Alfred Denison, the great collector of fishing books, belonged, and also a William Beckford, a cousin of the eccentric author of Vathek. Then Lord Lucas was a member, the brilliant and the attractive, whose many sided land gallant life ended all too soon in 1916. And to go further back Lord Palmerston lived and fished many years at Broadlands. And in our time Lord Grey of Falloden has sometimes deserted his beloved Itchen to visit it. Izaak Walton must have known it, and Andrew Lang fished at Whitchurch. Halford, the historian of the dry fly, frequented it and so did Francis Francis, and one who must have been the greatest fisher of all, George Selwyn Marryat. Here have come in recent times two great American fishers, George La Branche and Edward Ringwood Hewitt.'


The great and the good of fly fishing history have fished The Test. Now, for a few years in its history, it's our turn.


'She is the greatest trout river in the world: and it is to be hoped that this present generation will hand her on unspoilt to their successors.

St Mark's Day

- By Graham Waterton

This year the Test One Fly competition fell on the the 25th April, St Mark's Day and for the first time was won by a dry fly but a daddy long legs, not a Hawthorn Fly, the black dangly legged creature known for appearing around this day and after which it gets its Latin name.


This is a fly we all have in our boxes but don't always get to use. Last year the cold spring kept Bibio Marci away and I know no-one who gave one a swim. This year, thank goodness, they have just started to appear.

One of my early bibles was Alfred Courtney Williams book A Dictionary of Trout Flies first published in 1949, and although probably a typo he has confused readers for years with this:


 ... B. Marci, named after St. Marks Day which falls on April 5th, and which is about the earliest date one is likely to see this fly. It is by no means common before the beginning may or after June, it's occurrence coinciding more or less with the time that the Hawthorne is in blossom.


Personally I have never found it of much account as an angler's fly, although it sometimes get blown on to the water and then, attracted by the considerable disturbance it makes, trout will take it. On occasion, during May and June, these flies will be seen pairing in the air above, or close to, the river. If as sometimes happens, they then land on the surface of the stream, fish will seize them readily, for they appear to find a double mouthful of this (or almost any other) insect, more than they can resist.


So he got the date wrong, at least, in the 4th edition and although unpredictable, to describe it as he does is a travesty, at least on the Hawthorn lined chalkstreams of the south. He wasn't the only one, however, Harris in an Anglers Entomology also blanks the hawthorn other than a photo.


I remember 2 consecutive days on the Wylye some years ago that gave perfect conditions. The far bank of the beat near Stockton was lined in blooming Hawthorn bushes and a prolific hatch was blown by a gusty wind onto the river. The fish went mad and their memory for this fly allowed its successful use for days.


Although for some it may sit in your fly box alongside flying ant and snail patterns, for the early chalkstream fisherman it is a must and when conditions produce taking fish it can be memorable.


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?