Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

February 2014 - 'intoxicating anticipation'

- By Graham Waterton

'a spirit of delightful and well nigh intoxicating anticipation'

This was how John Ashley Cooper described his feelings when bound for the River Spey and the start of that rivers salmon season. It pretty much sums up most of February and March for me as we edge to the starts of various fishing seasons across the UK. Many rivers have different start times. Although somewhat  baffling and frustrating the reasons are generally sound ones. Each rivers fishery policy which included the close seasons are determined on a catchment by catchment basis rather than arbitrary parish, town or county boundaries. It's not a perfect system as there are many conflicting influences within each catchment but it does make sense. Just a shame that wider land management issues including flooding aren't dealt with on a similar basis. Thank goodness the EA have a national remit.

Politics, vested interests and ill informed public opinion still swirl around the flood plains of southern England and although the water remains high the press and cameras are drifting away and onto more topical news.  For many the next few months will be cleaning up and that's assuming we have no more rain.

Fishing days have been few and far between as most rivers remained out of condition. I feel for river keepers, part and full time who have been denied the last two months to carry out essential bank work. For many repairing the damage from recent floods will barely be finished before their seasons start let alone completing the work they had planned.

On the 8/9 Feb I went up to the British Fly Fair International at Stafford for the first time. The AAPGAI stand was busy but still plenty of time to wander round. Occasionally I wish I still dressed flies but not that weekend. My wallet would have been emptied up there. Who ever said that tying your own saved you money. An amazing spread of materials, hooks and other paraphernalia. I've often thought that casters were the geeky end of flyfishing but maybe flytiers edge it. Nonetheless it was good fun.

Apart from a few days feeling sorry for myself after 2 sessions of root canal surgery a lot of the month was confirming bookings for clients chalkstream excursions particularly over the mayfly period. As I write I have managed to get everyone sorted so far,with good beats well into the summer but already good dates are running out.

I have taken quite a few bookings for casting instruction but remain a little alarmed that my platforms at Fonthill are still under water. The lakes sluices are wide open but the level has only dropped about 6 inches in the last relatively dry week. As long as everyone brings waders it is good practice to cast in knee high water!

The month ended with another brilliant meeting of the Dorset Chalkstream Club organised by John Aplin. Good speakers and a real buzz that just round the corner the trout season beckons. As Ashley-Cooper said ... 'intoxicating anticipation'.


January 2014 - Chalkstream Pike, Flooding and the Salmon Review

- By Graham Waterton

Frustrating month for fisherman at the best of times but this January has been grim; now officially the wettest on record. Normally we could enjoy the end of the grayling season or try for an early spring salmon but both have been pretty much washed out. I did have a great pike session ... but more of that later.

With the land saturated and all systems full to the top even a showery day takes the rivers out of their banks. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chalkstream-flood-2.jpgI lost count of the flood warnings for the Avon and Frome systems ... and of course Somerset.

What is the truth about the flooding on the Somerset Levels? I write on the day the Prime minister announced that certain Somerset rivers will be dredged (the Parrett and the Tone) as part of a package of flood alleviation measures.  This contradicting the Environment Agencies hitherto publicly espoused policy and his own Environment Ministers initial reservations. Is this another case of a headline grabbing issue being hastily considered resulting in the wrong decision as a knee jerk reaction to public and media pressure?

Bearing in mind that the Somerset Level have been subject to flooding and reclamation projects of varying degrees of success for centuries it is hardly surprising that after exceptional rain, nature reclaims this low lying area. What's it to be? A vast area of natural wetland or the ongoing expensive managed artificial landscape. Isn't  'Somerset' derived from the old English term 'land of the summer people'. Funny that.

I've fished on both a salmon and a trout river where apparently well meaning, planned and professionally engineered improvements have been destroyed by the next exceptional flood finding its original route. In one case ruining one of the best salmon pools in Scotland. Nature gets her way.

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chalkstream-flood-1.jpg

Every bridge I drove over in the month provided a similar view to these. Back in July during the drought I described an empty river as looking like a 'bishop in his underpants". I'm now looking for the analogy of a river in full spate. It's a scarily impressive sight.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chalkstream-flood-4.jpg

No more about the weather.

In my search for some grayling fishing a friend invited me over to the beat of the lower middle Test: above Romsey, luckily he suggested I threw in a pike rod. On the unbraided parts, the main river is wide here and confronted with high tea coloured water I set up the 9wt, added a few feet of sinking poly leader, some wire tippet and a 6 inch flashy GT fly and went for a walk.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/test.jpg In normal water chalkstream pike can be found all over the river. As the weed grows, slow moving backwaters develop providing areas for pike to ambush their sheltering prey. At this height they get out of the flow and tuck themselves into the edges, around undercut tree roots and in the natural eddies created by the bends of the river. Where uncleared ditches join the river you find the coarse fish sheltering and also therefore the pike. So it was a cast here and a cast there and sure enough at the bottom of the beat where an incoming ditch marks the boundary, number one pike was found.  Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/test-pike-1.jpgHe was soon out, made famous and returned. The second was in the inside eddy of a bend, was therefore facing the 'wrong way' but an upstream cast did the trick and once hooked she shot across the river. In a flooded Test she was a handful and stripped line off me at an alarming rate but after the first run was soon out and back in. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/test-pike-2.jpgThey are amazing fish and although occasionally spotted by trout fisherman most remain unnoticed. You just don't expect to something that big in a chalkstream.  A fun few hours.

With the salmon season underway it has been heartening to see the support for Ian Gordon's campaign to end salmon netting. Alex Salmond chose the Tay opening ceremony to announce a review of wild fisheries management in Scotland.

The aims of the review are to :

1.Develop and promote a modern, evidence based management system for wild fisheries fit for purpose in the 21st Century and capable of responding to our changing environment.

2. To manage, conserve and develop our wild fisheries to maximise the sustainable benefit of Scotland's wild fish resources to the country as a whole and in particular to rural areas.

The review will be conducted by Andrew Thin the outgoing chair of Scottish Natural Heritage and he is predicted to report within 12 months. As salmon fishers we cannot assume the outcome of this review will be favourable to rod fisherman and should actively and vigorously support campaigns such as Ian's throughout the review period. Forgive me, but if you haven't signed up here is the link

Good luck to all chasing silver over the next few months and let me know if you need to brush up on your double handed casting particularly sinking shooting heads and skagits. Sounds as if you may have a lot of water to deal with.

See you all soon, I hope.


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...