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 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.


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.