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

The best fisherman are not lazy

- By Graham Waterton

A common enough problem for the trout fisherman (or for that matter a salmon fisherman) is what to do when your carefully selected killer pattern has been inspected and refused. It may have been June 1923 but JW Hills in A Summer on the Test gives some pretty sound advice.


There were a few olives about and he had just put a fish down with a clumsy cast.


'The next, rising a few yards above him, had a good, steady concentrated look at my olive, and then deliberately turned away. When shy trout do this, I am convinced that you should change your fly at once - change it either for one of a different pattern or for a smaller one of the same or for one which is both different and smaller. If you do not, if you keep on passing over the trout's nose an imitation which he has already examined and rejected, he may end by taking it. He may. But what usually happens is that at the next cast he gives it half a look and at subsequent ones disregards it altogether. And there is the danger that the fact of seeing a suspected insect continually floating over him may make him discover he is being fished for. It often does. And remember, too, that the more cast you make the more likely you are to bungle one. So off with the fly at once. Do not make even one more throw. It is a bore to have to change a killing fly, but do not be lazy.'


There are no hard and fast rules but this is a good habit to get into.


In stocked waters it is easy to ignore this and plug away with the same pattern. As Hills says he may end up taking it but he probably won't. So what if you eventually spook him, there will be another in front of the next root of ranunculus. This is lazy fishing and one day when you are confronted with a big wild fish and your nerves are jangling, you won't have developed the good habits of the successful fisher.

The best fisherman may be boring but they are not lazy.

Who invented the Riffle Hitch?

- By Graham Waterton

This time of the year sees fly boxes being checked and restocked ready for the annual trip to Iceland. One containing my Iceland collection includes a number of small tubes with side holes drilled for hitching. 

Where did this now well accepted and proven method of skating a fly across the surfaced or atlantic salmon come from?


The wonderful gallery owning sportsman Aylmer Tryon wrote two delightful books, the second of which, The Quiet Waters By, describes his many fishing adventures. In the Iceland chapter he admits to having first read this in Lee Wulff's book The Atlantic Salmon but in his own words he tells of the origins of the hitched fly.


Sometime early in this century a British man o' war put into this harbour in Newfoundland. Finding that there were many salmon in the rivers, some officers found an old leather wallet in the Wardroom containing gut-eyed flies. When a fish was hooked the old gut-eyes broke but, being naval officers and therefore well trained in knots, they soon solved the problem with a half hitch round the shank. This caused the fly to 'skate'  and wobble in a most seductive manner and to the surprise of all, they caught the most fish. Thus was 'the hitch' discovered and later adapted and improved by the ingenious Lee Wulff and others.



I've fished the riffled hitch a number of times but did not know its origins until I read Aylmer Tyron's book. Most other references suggest it was purely a Wulff adaptation of a Newfoundland fisherman's techniques. Important, I would suggest to establish its British roots!


Far and Far off

- By Graham Waterton

Les Hill and Graeme Marshall collaborated on two books in the 1980s and 1990s. Both New Zealanders and lifelong fisherman, Les was a school teacher and Graeme a professional guide. Their first book was Stalking Trout, their second Catching Trout and both are highly practical works describing the techniques for catching spooky wild trout in the clear back country streams of both North but more specifically South Island.

Their second book has a chapter entitled 'Concentration', an under estimated quality for all fisherman but particularly those who sight fish for big wild fish, where chances are few and far between.

In that chapter they sum up their basic stalking skills.


'While stalking I employ three defensive ploys. I move as slowly as possible, I stay as far from the waters edge as I can while still having a good view into the water and I search as far upstream as I can, hoping to locate fish while still out of their most perceptive forward or side-on vision.'


So obvious you may think, but after casting, I believe these are the next most important skills for fisherman who like stalking clearwater trout and so often ignored by chalkstream fisherman. What's more, these are not just applicable to New Zealand trout but are transferable to any stalking situation, chalkstreams, the flats and even Icelandic small river salmon fishing. This mantra is explored widely in their first book but that paragraph so concisely sums up what our approach to all clearwater river situations should be.


Both books were reprinted many times and now combined in one updated volume reprinted in 1995 by Halcyon Publishing. There are many excellent NZ fishing books but I think these are required reading if you are about to go down under.



This theme is expanded in an article 'Fine and Far Off"  published in the latest Piscatorial Society Journal.

The Bourne Rivulet

- By Graham Waterton

I fished the Bourne Rivulet the other day. That little tributary of The Test so beloved of Harry Plunket Greene and the subject of his book 'Where The Bright waters Meet'.


The book isn't all about the Bourne Rivulet, his pen reaches from Blagdon to The Kennet via various beats of the Test but it is for the bittersweet Bourne passages that this book is moving and memorable. And although his descriptions are full of the deep affection he felt for the river and there are many tales of the extraordinary catches he made which are so positive, there is much anger and frustration about its demise, which he blames on over stocking and pollution. These last paragraphs though, are a heartfelt plea and desperate hope that the good times will return.



'It was man that spoiled it all. If the Bourne is to be saved she must be given back to nature.

And so I say goodbye to her. The watercress beds above the viaduct have scarred her face marred her beauty for ever. The pollard is there still, but the trees with the wild bees are gone. The black death is creeping through the chalk and covering her eyes with a film. Materialism has her in its grasp, and the road-hog must be served.

But somewhere deep down, I have a dim hope that one night the fairy godmother will walk along the tarry road and stop on the bridge and listen, and send a message to me in the dark; and that when the mists begin to lift, and the poplars to shiver and the cock-pheasants crow in the beech woods, the little Bourne will wake and open her eyes and find in her bosom again the exiles that she had thought were gone for good - the silver trout, and the golden gravel, and the shrimp and the duns - and smell the dust of the road, and see the sun once more, and the red and white cows in the grass, and the yellow buttercups in the meadow and the blue smoke of the cottages against the black elms of Andover hill - and me too, perhaps, kneeling beside her as of old and watching the little iron blue, happy, laughing, come bobbing down to me under the trees below the Beehive bridge on the Whitchurch road.'



HP-G witnessed the streams decline in the years before his death in 1936 and will not have enjoyed looking down on further decades of neglect, pollution and abstraction but I do so hope he watched my few hours on the river. The yellow buttercups of the meadows shone and their watery cousins were just opening their bright white flowers. The golden gravels were washed clean and the full sunlit river sparkled with health. Olive duns drifted in the late afternoon and then spinners danced and small sedges kept the wild perfect exiles active. I so wanted him to see the size and condition of these beautiful, beautiful fish. It may not be back to the heady days he enjoyed in the early 1900s but I hope he would have smiled to see this magical little stream looking so vibrant and healthy. His fairy godmother is trying to work her magic.

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.