Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

December 2013 - Chalkstreams in Dorset Hampshire and Wiltshire

- By Graham Waterton

Fishing blogs always seem to start with the weather so here we go. It was wetter than average but otherwise fairly typical December weather which, as you would expect, gave us some good and bad days.

For the second year running most of the Avon system ran coloured and a lot of the time high. As I so look forward to late season clearwater nymphing this was a real disappointment. The grayling were there however and once you found a shoal on the feed, the coloured water gave you cover and it was almost a fish a cast. On one of my favourite middle Avon stretches the shoals were huge. Normally shoals form and stay over the gravel between weedbeds, typically a dozen, maybe twenty fish or so.  With no effective last weed cut there were few gaps and it seemed that the smaller shoals aggregated to weedless areas.  For example I found one, just below the confluence of two braids and I suspect there was over a 100 fish in an area of gravel the size of a squash court. Great fun.

The flip side of this early winter rain is of course the reduction in the chalk aquifer deficit. As I write just after a very wet Christmas the system is in flood and with more rain forecast, although fishing predictions are dangerous, I remain pretty sure that the chalkstreams will run full for the first half of next year, at least.

So to find clear water it was over to the Itchen.

There was hardly a day when olives didn't hatch for an hour or so. Pale Wateries of course. I say of course, not through detailed examination and great entomological knowledge but in Nov/Dec if a medium size grey wing olive hatches for a short time in the middle of the day ... that's what it will be. As enjoyable as the wonderful grayling fishing was, the sight of good numbers of wild browns is real encouragement for next seasons trout stocks.

Just before the first of the big late December storms, John Aplin ( ) had one of his excellent Dorset Chalkstream meetings. Lots of good speakers but Stephen Gregory from the GWCT (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust) caught everyone's attention with the news that a 125cm salmon had gone through the East Stoke counter in November. That's about 38lbs.  A late spawner probably but a shame not an early springer. Imagine that!

Another intriguing stat provided clear evidence of what salmon fishers have always  suspected. By comparing water levels against the counter it was clear that fish start running before the river level rises by up to 48 hrs. Much discussion afterwards on why. Atmospheric pressure was the obvious favourite. Canny critters these salmon.

Overall from a UK wide perspective it seemed to be a good year for salmon. When the figures are collected, checked and correlated I suspect we will see a good spring for many systems, a poor drought led summer and an above average autumn giving a year better than 2012. The most important stat will be the catch and release percentages ... lets hope the trend continues. Abroad it was a mixed picture. The vast majority of Iceland rivers had a belter but both Russia and Norway had some difficult times. No one predicted that.

It was good to see so many immediately sign up to Ian Gordons petition to prevent the SNFAS restarting spring netting. A subsequent poll by Ian showed conclusively that the vast majority want the netting rights bought out. Whoever negotiates must do so with the financial support they need. It may be time for all the conservation and angling bodies to get their hands in their pockets and us salmon fisherman for that matter.

If you haven't signed, please do so now at

On the chalkstreams a good year will be remembered. Good levels, gave strong weed growth and food for fish. From the fisherman's perspective though some important food species stayed at home, namely grannom and hawthorns, upwinged fly hatches started early and remained good throughout the summer with some spectacular BWO appearances both during the day and in the evenings. The absentees stayed in bed due to the cold spring weather and I am curious to see what effect their absence this year will have on the corresponding hatches next. The mayfly hatch was OK but unpredictable but if you were lucky sport was good and as it was late starting, it went on well towards the end of June.

Next years diary is filling up nicely. I am booked for guiding for much of the traditional mayfly season, namely from mid May to the end of June with only a few days free. Plenty of free time however before then for brushing up on your double handed casting if your heading off to try and catch a spring fish. As ever, very happy to help ... let me know.

Happy New Year to you all and hope to see you next year.

November 2013

- By Graham Waterton

November started with good weather and all the daily variations were fairly typical  of the month. I do most of my casting instruction on The Fonthill Estate lakes near Tisbury and the surrounding trees provided some spectacular Autumn colours. The firsts frosts, a few blows and most of the leaves are now off the trees.

Sadly the rain in late October raised the level of the Avon system and it is still coloured as I write. When I took my old friend Tom to the Avon we struggled. Bank to bank uncut weed and brown water made finding fish tough. A whole month with the system far from its best ... reminiscent of last year. I really don't envy the riparian owners, clubs and associations on the Avon system working out how to get the weed cut and removed now the EA have washed their hands of it. Apparently the EA will still remove cut weed from the Test and Itchen as it represents a flood risk, but not from the Avon and its tributaries.

The upside of that early winter rain is that the aquifer deficit will improve and although we are down on last year, with average rain from now on, the chalkstreams should have healthy flows for next season.

So the Itchen was my main target and as ever gave wonderful grayling fishing throughout the month. No real sign of grayling shoaling in any numbers yet but every day I was out, olives hatched at some point. Clear water nymphing is a real joy.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/november-grayling.jpg

I gave some lessons to a few more clients before they headed north for the last week on the Tweed and then had a really good teaching session to prepare a client for a trip to Cuba. This was his fourth bonefish trip but he still struggled with double hauling. An experienced and capable fisherman it was simply a coordination issue. We firstly started with the simple and very effective 'triangle' method on grass which reminds students of the key parts of the overhead cast. Then to Lee Cummings brilliant 1-2-3-4 method which stops the cast between hauls enabling people to take it one step at a time. It was clearly a struggle at first but he got it and left well equipped to practice and get the muscles to memorise this new cast. I can't wait to hear how his trip goes and on a cold November day in Wiltshire I was very jealous of his trip.

An old friend managed to get me to London mid month for the Atlantic Salmon Trusts fundraising dinner at The Fishmonger Hall. It was brilliantly organised and the various auctions raised over £50,000. A fantastic effort for a great cause.

Sadly I didn't manage to catch a late bass or salmon but I am so looking forward to the next few weeks stalking big chalkstream grayling.

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.