Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

October 2013

- By Graham Waterton

For once this year, the weather followed a pattern more typical of the month. Some warm days, followed by cooler days both wet and dry and as October progressed, the month blended from the last hints of summer to Autumn proper.

For some rivers in the south the trout season now seems to extend well into a time more suited to grayling fishing and so the first week or so gave me my last days guiding for chalkstream trout. Many beats are running out of stocked fish and those fish that remain, wild or stocked, have seen it all and create real challenges. For just an hour or so one grey and cooling afternoon I took a novice to catch his first chalkstream brownie. I had made it clear that our chances were slim which made success even sweeter for him and me. It wasn't big, about a pound, but it was a wild fish that had survived the season; it made his and ended my trout guiding for the year on a high.

Before the last day a friend took me to the Services Dry Fly Association water on the upper Avon made famous by Frank Sawyer. The water had colour after recent rain and in reverence to its keeper of over 50 years I fished with his ubiquitous Pheasant Tail Nymph and caught lots of small browns and some good grayling. I think that man had more influence on clearwater nymphing tactics worldwide than any other. I have spoken to many devotees of this style of fishing around the world and he is mentioned in respectful hushed tones by all.

Mid month I went to the service of thanksgiving for Tom Ellis. Tom was a river keeper with The Piscatorial Society for over 20 years caring particularly for their beautiful beat of the River Avon at Wilsford, where incidentally Frank Sawyer started his river keeping career in 1925.  I worked with Tom for a year and his passing caused me to read again my diary for that year in the early 80s. It's very easy to forget the work of the largely unseen keepers of our streams. When we were all checking the extra leaves on our lawns after the recent big storm their chain saws and winches were busy heaving trees out of the rivers.

I gave a few casting lessons mainly to those about to venture to the Tweed system to enjoy that extended back end season. It is impossible to change years of bad habit muscle memory in a few hours but some simple tweaks really can make a difference. As I write this, reports coming back suggest that the Tweed system (and some of the other big rivers) will end a Scottish salmon season on a positive note, much as they started. The dry months of the summer will soon be forgotten as the statistics of a good year come in.

As the month came to an end I was able to get out and fish myself for grayling.  I had a few glorious days on the various headwaters of the River Itchen.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/itchen.jpg Lots of cool clear water, lots of dark green waving ranunculous and heads of light green starwort ... a very healthy headwater system ... and lots of willing grayling. One of the carriers to the main Itchen gave me some of the toughest most challenging fishing I've had for years. Really difficult stalking to ultra spooky fish. Reminded me of the small clear freestone streams of the west coast of the South Island New Zealand ... except the fish were a bit bigger! I was down to #20 Rambos and Marys and 7x tippet to get a response from the few fish I didn't spook. Really enjoyable until the rain came down hard and visibility went.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/grayling.jpg

I've really missed my bass fishing this year but I gather these late arrivals are still hanging on so I'm off to Devon in the next day or so ... fingers crossed. I'd also love to get a couple of last days on the Tweed...

Less swooshing please!

- By Graham Waterton

Article for The Journal of the Piscatorial Society 


I think it was Jeremy Paxman who said that reading about fishing was the next best thing to fishing itself. Sad, but for me also, true. Having recently cast off the shackles of full time work, I've been able to allow my part time fishing obsession to become full time, so, as well as qualifying as a casting instructor and a multitude of other fishy pursuits, I've been looking for specific  references to casting in fishing literature.  It has prompted me to read new books and to re-read many old favourites and it appears that examples are scant. The answer it seems is that although fundamental to fly fishing it is certainly seen by most fisherman and by inference by most fishing writers, as merely a rather uninteresting means to an end. Well, I still want to catch fish, that remains the end but now in understanding casting and casting better myself, for me there is extra pleasure in the means.

As Negley Farson wrote in the wonderful Going Fishing;

'There is nothing like the fly, or the pleasure of casting it'

I suspect that part of this shortage of casting references is that casting is often seen as the nerdy end of fly-fishing. I now know that the Jedi masters of the casting world have a very, very detailed understanding of both the mechanics of casting and of tackle, particularly rods and lines. This knowledge and their input into tackle design may be what Formula One is to the average driver and NASA is to saucepans but they find it almost impossible to put down in words. The skill of the best and in my view, most effective instructors is to refine this knowledge and explain simply as much as is necessary for the student to cast better and more importantly catch fish. Keep it simple....never truer than in teaching beginners how to cast.

In looking for casting references, I avoided the 'how to' books as most have a pretty unhelpful chapter on casting. In Dermot Wilson's  'Fishing The Dry Fly', of which I have a precious autographed copy, he quite rightly comments that you can't learn casting from a book. If you want a classic example of this, read the HS/HL chapter inserted by Charles Ritz at the start of the third edition of his book A Fly Fishers Life. It is mostly gobbledygook and painful to follow. Ritz may have been an impressive caster and a leading casting  technocrat of his generation but describing it simply was beyond him. I suspect most readers lose the will to live quite quickly and skip to Chapter 1.  Dermot Wilson, who coincidently wrote the Introduction to this edition of Ritz's book, neatly, simply and effortlessly describes (much as he used to cast himself) the basic dynamics of casting in Fishing The Dry Fly.

'The spring in the rod gives the line it's impetus. The fisherman merely controls the rod and helps it to do its work.......It is the released tension that propels the line. And the rod-tip has to be flexed to develop this tension......the rod tip is bent by the weight of the line'

So that's it....a nice bit of simple physics.

My mentors who are guiding me to AAPGAI qualification had to change 45 years of poor technique brought about by not fully understanding the basic mechanics. My overriding faults though, were applying too much effort and casting much too quickly.  I needed to slow down and put in far less effort.

Francis Francis knew this over 150 yrs. ago.

   '... never use more strength or vigour in making a cast than is absolutely necessary ... for all beyond ... positively defeats the end the fisher has in view'

' let him study, not how much noise he can make by swooshing his rod through the air, but whether he cannot avoid making any at all'

...' all that force and noise is not only superfluous  ... and that without it he would cast an infinitely better line..."

So he said in A Book of Angling in 1867; spot on Francis.

Over the years my answer to casting better (which I used to interpret as meaning further) was use the most modern kit and put in more effort. Sound familiar? My neck, shoulders, back and arms have creaked over the years but better technique, however late I have acquired it, will undoubtedly increase my fishing longevity. If you do it right, it is amazing how far you can cast with little effort.

As for better equipment, the area where most advances have been made over recent years is in the design of lines, particularly for the double handed caster. The major line manufacturers have responded to a phenomenal increase in interest in spey casting, for instance, by producing a baffling range of lines. Spey casting for single handed rods also provides so many more opportunities, not just for the line manufacturers but for us fisherman to deliver the fly in many more situations which are impossible for the overhead cast only fisherman. The fact that competent spey casters are better equipped than the rest has been well known for years and maybe it was G M Kelson, in his major work The Salmon Fly, published in 1895 that started this rather elitist view, when he wrote;

'The achievement of the much coveted Spey(cast), the highest art of all, is endowed with an irresistible fascination peculiar to itself...Men who are practically conversant with all the circumstances which render the cast necessary, and with all the various ways of making it, are so far removed from the struggling rank and file as to frequently meet with the highest success on pools which, to, others, are positively unfishable'

I haven't read the whole book but I must, just to find out whether his style is so consistently and wonderfully pompous.

But was he right, do we need to cast exceptionally well to catch fish? No, but the better casters consistently get their flies into places which gives them more chances ... and so they will catch more fish.

'A cast must be regarded faulty which does not reach the desired spot, or, if it does succeed in that particular, falls with a splash in the water'

The title of Joseph's Adams book ... Salmon and Trout Angling, written in 1923 ... gives us a pretty clear hint as to his quarry. As he knew, good casting for both species, is about presentation, accuracy and lastly distance ... improve those three and you will definitely catch more fish.

It is difficult to think of any type of fly fishing that would not benefit from improvement in any one of these qualities. It is very satisfying to teach complete beginners and very experienced casters to improve their technique but the most rewarding for me is, without  doubt, while guiding, to make small changes to a cast and enable the fisherman to cover and catch fish that they previously could not. So often they want to move to an easier fish because they can't get the fly to this one. Chances are that the fish that occupy the most difficult lies are tough to cover for those that have tried before, so if you do, it may be the first time it's seen an artificial. Increases the odds methinks.

One fishing situation that demands accuracy, presentation and distance in spades is the flats. You don't have to be a bonefish guide to understand the frustration they have when having presented the client to the fish the caster fails to deliver. As Chico Fernandez says in his wonderfully clear and concise book Fly-Fishing for Bonefish;

' you can buy your way for hundreds and thousands of miles from your home but you can't buy the last 60ft between you and the fish'

Well you can't at the time but you can before you go. Learn to double haul to 80ft and the  40/50ft cast you need for most bone fishing situations will turn over into the wind, land delicately and fool the spookiest.

It is wonderful to watch the expert....whether the Gower cover drive or the dropping of the highest pheasant; the apparent slow motion of perfect timing is joyful. In Thomas McGuanes little gem of a book The Longest Silence he watches Steve Rajeff at the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club....

'... and he casts with a common elegance - a high, slow backcast, perfect timing, and a forecast that straightens with precision. He seems to overpower very slightly so that the line turns over and hangs an instant in the air to let the leader touch first. He regulates the width of the loop in his line to the inch and at will. When a headwind comes up, he tightens the loop into a perfectly formed, almost beveled, little wind cheater. It is quite beautiful.'

John Gierach in all his writings doesn't say much about casting ... like flies I suspect he felt that if a cast caught fish, it was a good one. He did though acknowledge the importance of good instruction. In 1986 in his breakthrough book Trout Bum, he commented;

'Graphite was, and is, good stuff and it sold, though more than one eager fly-fisher was disappointed that he could't cast any farther with his new space age rod than he could with his old Eagle Claw glass. Someone was heard to say, " Spend half of what you just spent on that rod on some casting lessons, and you'll get your extra distance.'

Or, as some would say ..." All the gear and no idea"

So does it matter if you cast exceptionally well? If you're catching fish and enjoying yourself, I guess not, but as I now find, casting more efficiently avoids so many aches and pains and as I have said before, you will catch more fish. I guarantee it.


September 2013

- By Graham Waterton

My diary looked good for September, Spey, Iceland and plenty of chalkstream guiding.

As I drove north to the Spey every crossed river was dry. Those snatched glimpses over bridges told the story of the summer. The Spey catchment had seen little significant rain for nearly two and a half months and on arrival I could only remember seeing the river so low once in nearly 25 years.  However if I was to be on any beat in these conditions it would be those below Fochabers bridge on Gordon Castle. When it is low fresh fish, particularly grilse, wriggle in on every tide. They come to the fly and often stir up earlier arrivals. We found a couple but saw very few and although I would normally have great confidence that as soon as the rain came, Spey Bays residents would surge in, it felt that there simply wasn't any fish around. I really hope I'm wrong. (I'm pleased to say, I was)


This Spey team are very experienced but a few wanted to smooth out some rough edges to their technique which was fun to help them with. Lucy had yet to catch a fish and we had great fun with a 7wt switch rod catching some very feisty finnock.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/guiding-first-fish.jpg Lots of laughs and big smiles. I think she's hooked.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/first-fish.jpg


As soon as I got home an invite to try for some Frome sea trout with my old fishing friend Robin, arrived. The salmon season had ended but plenty of sea trout come in late, some very big and the conditions of low clear water and a warm, still, spell of weather boded well. We met up, chatted for about an hour and by 7.30 were fishing. Robin was typically generous and put me in the best pools to start and within 20 minutes I had 2 fish around a pound out, and back in. By 8.30 most of the light was gone and I moved a good fish and then landed the best of the night....approaching a couple of pounds.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/frome-sea-trout.jpg The temperature then dropped, the mist came and we knew that was that. They catch several double figure sea trout here every year ... next year maybe.

A session of instruction and a days guiding made getting all my kit disinfected for Iceland a little tense but the vets came up trumps.

The guided day is worth a mention. It was on the Lambourn courtesy of Famous Fishing. This wonderful little chalkstream is tough fishing at the best of times and anyone who can take a brace of fish has done well. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/lambourn.jpgTheir client gave me hint he knew what he was doing by setting up a nice little 7ft 4 wt outfit and then proved it by throwing, tight, short casts with accuracy and precision. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/lambourn-cast.jpgHe looked doubtful but I rigged him up with a short New Zealand rig of an 18 Hares Ear 18 inches under a small Humpy. Lilliputian chalkstream fishing. By lunchtime he had 3 cracking fish and lost the biggest which must have been close on 16 inches.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/lambourn-trout.jpg Another after lunch and he and his wife left having celebrated his birthday in some style. A good day.

The Midfjardara had, up to then, had a fantastic season. Lots of crystal clear water and an astonishing run of fish. By the start of our visit they had caught almost exactly double last years total. By mid September the Iceland winter arrived and by the end of our trip we had bitter weather, bone chilling winds, blizzards, high coloured waters which dropped to 1degree! However despite all this the 10 shared rods had exactly 100 fish...a real testament to the outstanding season most of Iceland has enjoyed this year. My personal highlight was a 99 cm hen fish, probably around 22/23 pounds.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/iceland-big-salmon.jpg A cracker.

The last week of the month saw me guiding on The Test at Wherwell, Fullerton and Bossington, the Nadder and the Anton. Interesting to see how well these different beats fished at the end of the season. Some looked good, well kept and healthy with good heads of wild and stocked fish. Others didn't.

On the last day of the month I went down to the bottom of the Itchen and fished the first recognised pool for a late season sea trout. Being on the edge of Southhampton, the pool is bathed in urban light, and the background sounds of passing traffic and planes landing at Eastleigh give an altogether surreal atmosphere. However the sound of large sea trout crashing about in the near darkness concentrates the mind wonderfully. No whoppers but a first Itchen sea trout for me.

Altogether a good and varied month....grayling next and a chance of a late salmon perhaps.

August 2013

- By Graham Waterton


I've lived and worked nearly all my life in the country and weather wise not much surprises me. This made it easier to ride the extremes of weather the gods delivered in August.

Generally the temperatures dropped from the extremes of July and a few showers greened  up my lawn. The days I guided on the chalkstreams saw extremes of weather but we had some good days despite the elements.

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/august-blog-client-1.jpgTypical of this was a day on the Anton with two medical men from Sussex. We spent the first 2 hours sheltering in the tiny hut from a heavy persistent shower. Although the rain stopped it was cold and consequently no fish on the top; as the clouds persisted, spotting fish in the deeper channels of the ever healthy and lush ranunculus was tough. Off to The Peat Spade for an early lunch and on our return the world looked and felt much better. Funny that.

They were both novices particularly to chalkstreams but soon got the hang of casting short, close to the margins of this pretty Test tributary.
Crouching behind the margin reeds and rolling out nymphs to deep lying trout was the early afternoon agenda and then as the temperature rose back into the high 20s, a few fish fed on the surface. There was success for both of them on tiny olive spinners and they headed home happy with trout for supper.


It's rarely difficult to catch mackerel off Chesil beach in August and although they were about a month late due to persistent cold water they arrived in large shoals within fly range of the shingle which doesn't often happen. A 6 or 7wt is enough and as is so often the case when fish are busting bate on the surface, pattern is not critical but size is and on this occasion a #6 Los Roques Minnow did the business.

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chesil.jpgIf mackerel went to 5 pounds we would be shoulder to shoulder on our shores. Fresh mackerel on the table takes some beating.

Another spell of warm calm weather gave me confidence for our annual trip out to Eddystone to try for big bass on a fly.  A call to the skipper the night before and the high winds forecast left us on shore. More weather induced frustration.

Would this weather system bring rain to the Spey catchment for our regular September week on the finest salmon river in Scotland?  

July 2013

- By Graham Waterton

The first 2 weeks saw continued hot, dry and still conditions which often tested me and my chalkstream clients but each fishing day normally ended up better than could have been predicted. I guided on a variety of corporate and private client days on the River Test, its wonderful tributary the River Anton, the River Nadder and the stunning but very difficult River Lambourn. Early morning and evening were often best but most days saw periods where fish took olives, midges and smuts off the surface. Many beats allow nymphs after 1st July which opened up lots of opportunities, not least to teach clear water nymphing techniques, which I love. It also, thankfully, saw the start of some good steady evening rises to spinners and sedges.


Thankfully I missed sauna Friday at the Game Fair but the cooler breezier Saturday was much more enjoyable. I met two chalkstream clients in order to test some 5 wt outfits. We tested about 5 and have bought a Hardy Zenith Sintrix for her and a Sage One for him, both excellent rods, with 2 Hardy Ultralights and Rio Golds completing these well balanced set-ups.River Oykel below Oykel Falls

That evening I drove north to Berwick where The Tweed was terribly low. A clear indicator of what we could expect further north as I headed up on Sunday for a few days on the wonderful River Oykel.
  I adore this river, particularly in the Spring...always water dependant but if you get it you will catch salmon. They hadn't had decent rain for 2 months and the river was at its lowest for over 7 years with fish very few and far between.River Oykel in very low water However it gave me lots of time with everyone in the party to help them with their casting. A really enjoyable few days. The news that Sunday rain saw 30 caught on Monday and over 100 for the following week confirmed how cruel the fish gods can be.


Back to the Test and Anton for 3 days guiding and time for their new owners to test the 2 new outfits. Tara caught her 1st, 2nd and 3rd chalkstream brownies...the last pushing 20 inches . clients big brown troutMore fish on the second day but Chris, her husband, had an intriguing battle with a good fish of over 20 inches. We spotted it late morning and had 3 separate attempts which needed some tweaking to the casting technique to get the fly under the overhanging branches on the far bank and avoiding both the high reed mace on our bank and the trees behind us. At about 7.00 pm and after many, many fly changes we were down to 7x tippet and an 18 traditional Adams. The slowest and most agonising take saw the fish hooked. Although a fine long distance release was executed after a minute or so, we were elated and felt the battle was won. We fooled him.

Personally, I had some wonderful evenings. Normally an hour before last light fish would start feeding either to BWO spinners or sedges. The first of these evenings reminded me to always take a torch. Tying on #18s with no light when there are fish begging for food is torture.

As the month ended so we had some relief from the heat wave with cooler temperatures and some much needed rain. Looking back on the month, as far as the chalkstreams were concerned the continued high levels of good cool water kept the weed growing and the rivers fishing better than the average July.