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 strong and sensitive pleasure of a civilised man'.

- By Graham Waterton

Outside the clear cut world of competitive fishing, how does one judge, among your fishing friends for instance, which of you is the best fisherman?  Roderick Haig-Brown in A River Never Sleeps, written in 1948, considers many qualities. At some length he examines what creates proficiency in a fisherman both technical and intellectual but sums up the discussion like this:


Perhaps such a list of skills and virtues may sound a formidable burden for a man to carry down to the river with him when he wants nothing more than a quiet day's sport. But we are civilised men, not merely fishers for meat. Our tradition is that of the first man who sneaked away to the creek when the tribe did not really need fish, a tradition developed for us through thousands of years and millions of river lovers. We fish for pleasure, and fishing becomes pleasure from within ourselves in proportion to the skill and knowledge, to the imagination and flexibility of soul that we bring to it. Like the hunter, the hawker and the fowler, the fisherman takes life in finding his pleasure. It is reasonable to ask of him that he make it as keen and thorough and satisfying, as productive of growth in himself as he reasonably can. For only then can it be the strong and sensitive pleasure of a civilised man'


I do so like the image of that first person sneaking away from the tribe to fish for pleasure. It remains one of my favourite lines in angling literature. And I hope, not to fanciful, to see that being one of a number of small steps man took towards civilisation.

What qualities do successful flyfisherman have?

- By Graham Waterton

You could conclude from these blogs that I am certainly interested in what makes the good fly fisherman or put another way, what qualities do the very best fly fisherman display. Well it is not so much my interest but the preoccupation of so many authors of fishing books. Not surprising really as one of the best ways to improve is to observe and learn from the successful.  Nearly all of the most popular books dwell on this subject, some at length and one author who it clearly fascinates is Roderick Haig-Brown in A River Never Sleeps, written in 1948. One of his forays into this subject is a sub chapter entitled Top, Middle and Bottom.


He starts with a quote of Cottons and then goes on to discuss the various methods of flyfishing neatly compartmentalised by the depth at which the fly is fished. During this brisk canter through all fly fishing methods he also cleverly refers to both Halford and Skues without the need to get too involved with the age old argument, though clearly sides with the latter. The chapter ends entirely predictably with:


 'All methods of fly fishing are good; each is superior in its own place and time, under its own ideal conditions, to the others; not only superior in effectiveness, but in the pleasure and satisfaction that one derives from fishing it. None is invariably more difficult, more subtle, more artistic or more worthwhile than the others. The really good fly fisherman is he who can meet all conditions of fishing by working his fly with equal competence at the Top, at the Bottom, in the Middle, and, let us add, three centuries after Cotton, in the surface.'


I like this whole passage and to me displays a fly fisherman who fished widely around the world and was taught to develop an open and enquiring mind. Never is he caught up or held back by adherence to one style or dogma.



He also, some 50 years before the method was separately labelled, throws in right at the end, 'in the surface', or as we know it now, emerger fishing. I wish I could tell him how far ahead of his time he was.

We remember 100 years ago

- By Graham Waterton

A century ago on 3th August 1914, on the eve of the outbreak of war, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey of Falloden famously said  'The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime'


Lord Grey was Foreign Secretary from 1905-16 and a lifelong fly fisherman. As part of the preamble to his famous book Fly Fishing, published in 1899,Lord Grey of Falloden ponders on the benefits of time spent fishing.



'One thing perhaps should be borne in mind to prevent disappointment, and that is not to ask too much of Nature suddenly, when we have been strained by overwork; at such times we are out of tune, and more fit for rest than enjoyment. If we are to enter into the moods of Nature, we must bring us some vigour and elasticity of spirit. A feeble mind looking upon fair scenes with a languid eye will not feel the joy of them, and it is with Nature as with friendship - we cannot take all and bring nothing. On the other hand, work, if it be of an interesting sort and not crushing in amount, is a fine preparation for the country. Such work is stimulating, and when we make our escape we do it with faculties erect and active, with every sense alert and eager for sights and sounds and all joys, which are not to met with in cities. Then we bring with us such an uprising of the spirit, that we seem to be fit companions for Nature even on her finest and best days in spring. 



 I like the idea that his escape from the strains and immense pressures of the times, were the chalkstreams of Hampshire and the rivers of Northumberland.

The challenge met.

- By Graham Waterton

JW Hills in A Summer on the Test, written in 1924, is casting to a good trout on the main at Longparish. The fish is lying on the seam between a slow and a streamy, faster run of water. It moves to take naturals on both sides.  Should he cast to the slow water and risk his line being pulled by the steam, dragging his fly or cast straight up the streamy water. Next to the fish, and between him and it, is some exposed weed. If the fly or his leader touches the weed, the fish will surely spook.

Mid way through his tale he pauses to reflect.


'No non-fisherman can realise the excitement, often painful, which possesses you before you make a cast such as this. You are literally frightened. Of what, it may be asked, are you frightened? What is a trout, after all, and what does it matter if you hit or miss? Why all this fuss and bother? Why should such a trivial success or failure cause such deep emotion? Well, possibly we are foolish folk, and spend on trifles feelings which the wise reserve for more important events.  All the same, there is not one of us who has not had the sensation, nor is there one of us who would be without it.'


I still get it and wouldn't be without it. Its one of the reasons I fish.


By the way, he decides to cast across the stream to the slack water with what we would now call a slack line cast and hooks the fish. Not big, but that's not the point.


The challenge made and met.


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.