Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

April Flyfishing - Past and Present

- By Graham Waterton

In the UK we are confronted with a variety of trout fishing opening days from 15th March to well into April according to individual fishery rules and of course National and local bye-laws. The freestone rivers of much of the north of England and Devon, for instance, start early but for the chalkstreams of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset it is April fools days when the flag drops. Very appropriate you may think.  For, as TS Eliot wrote 'April is the cruellest month'.

So although many get to fish in March, us chalkstreamers see April as the first month of the season 

Early season fishing has its challenges, not least the vagaries of the British weather but we are not the first to confront them. Through the writings of those who fly fished before us we can see that they too, for over 150 years, have enjoyed the anticipation and frustration of April fly fishing.

In 1899, Viscount Grey of Falloden in his book Fly Fishing, rather dismisses April for the dry fly fisherman on the chalk streams of the south but as a lover of wet fly fishing he takes a more positive attitude to the freestone rivers at the other end of the country.

'Let us take an April day on some northern river. It is a days fishing that is before us, and the first thought in the morning has been 'what sort of a day is it?'. Probably that is the first thought of every one who lives out of town and cares about the country. It is always some sort of a day in the country, not always the sort that had been expected or desired, it is one to be looked at, studied, recognised and made the most of in an appropriate spirit.'

And that's the first lesson with early season fishing. If you open the curtains or listen to the forecast and then go back to bed you don't even get the chance for a taste of pain and pleasure.

Falloden goes on to describe the good April days:

'Such days may come at any time of the month, in the beginning, middle, or end, but in the north, at any rate before quite the end of April, trees will still be brown and bare. That does not matter. There will be a spirit in the air, an appeal, a promise, a prophecy, to make a man's heart leap up within him. There is a feeling of rising sap and reviving life.'

Exactly. Optimism flies high on those first trips. The anticipation is over and at last we're on the river.

In Reflections of a River by Howard Marshall, published in 1967, he beautifully evokes how we feel about our favourite rivers and those early April days.

'... from the moment you have put up your rod and tied on a Greenwell in early April, you are conscious of being gathered up into the kindly, loving season before you, and you know that it can bring you nothing but happiness.'

In JW Hills classic book A Summer on the Test he too describes April with enthusiasm.

'A good many Aprils have been spent after ... trout in northern waters, far from the Test. The great lesson which April trout fishing in these streams teaches you is never to despair. Fortune may suddenly change, and you will never know what you bag till you have reeled up.'

'But the chief joys of April are anticipation and the sense that you are getting something for nothing. All the best of the year is in front of you, and you have not used it up yet. However bad your luck, nothing is wasted. The real season has not begun. And so, if you do get a good day, it is something additional and unexpected.'

One of the perennial debates on the chalkstreams is whether there is less fly than there was. Reading old fishing books won't teach the experienced fisherman much but the benefits, other than sheer enjoyment, are that it takes us to the roots of some of our flyfishing traditions and it gives us the opportunity to compare then with now. They describe good seasons and bad, they observed cyclical changes in water levels, weed growth and fly hatches. They had issues of pollution, overdevelopment, draining water meadows, unnecessary dredging, revolutionary changes in agricultural practices, to name but a few. As far as fly hatches go, their descriptions make it clear that they had the same species then, as we have now. Over recent years I started to suspect that numbers of fly may have reduced, particularly during the years of low flows and poorer water quality but again, they are cyclical. For instance many bemoaned the apparent disappearance of the BWO but I saw some consistent heavy hatches and falls throughout last July and August.

The references are too many to quote but consistently the staple April flies over the last 150 years on the southern chalkstreams have been the Large Dark Olive and the Grannom. The Hawthorn gets mentioned but I suspect this leggy black terrestrial was considered a little 'infra dig' as well as being unpredictable. In the north add March Browns and Stoneflies to that list. So again not much changes.  As for patterns however ... that's a subject for another article.

Hills, for me, sums up April dry fly trout fishing so well in this passage and it applies just about anywhere in the country.

'There is a quality of magic about those early spring rises. The river looks dead and lifeless, and this impression is heightened by the bare meadow and the lifeless trees. The stream runs with a dull lead like surface, which nothing disturbs and apparently nothing will ever disturb. You expect a rise and it does not come, and then suddenly, when you have given up expecting, trout start moving simultaneously as though the signal has been passed around. At one moment you see fly after fly sailing down untaken and you think nothing will ever break the unbroken surface: at the next the river is alive with rings of rising fish. It has come to life, and the sturdy vital trout, which a moment ago were hidden so completely that you doubted their existence, have mysteriously reappeared.'

He then describes finding a group of feeding fish, selecting the largest and having his Large Dark Olive pattern rejected. And then again by another fish and knowing that time may be short he changes to a Medium Olive Quill and immediately his fortunes change. But as quickly the rise is over.

'This indeed is the peculiarity of early spring rises, that they start and end suddenly. You are lucky to get a fish before they begin: when they end, you can go home. Whilst they are on, fish are not difficult, provided there is not too much fly: but you very rarely do well when your artificial has to be a member of a drove of naturals, for the competition is too severe.

But in these short April rises, you have no time for bungles or disasters or changes of fly: if you are to do well, your fly, must be right to begin with. And this is not as simple as it sounds.'

Never, never believe that cold weather hinders fly. You will hear it, always and everywhere; but it is not only untrue but the reverse of truth. Except at the very beginning of April, you get more fly on a cold day than on a warm.

Once again, good advice. So as far as April is concerned the message is clear. The waiting is over, the anticipation satisfied and now is the time to get out and enjoy those fleeting moments of April magic. And why read old fishing books? Well I don't subscribe to the mantra of 'there's nothing new in fly fishing' because there is and much is good but it's sobering to be reminded that so many of our routine customs were their hard won lessons. Its good to understand some of the history of our sport and always a joy to read wonderful writing.


March 2014 - The chalkstream season approaches

- By Graham Waterton

As you read this we will be on the eve of April Fools day and the start of the chalkstream season. Often, an entirely suitable coincidence. A consequence of winters slashing weather perhaps, but I can't remember being so pathetically excited.

In February's blog I sympathised with river keepers who would struggle to get ready for the opening day. Well for a few it is worse than that. Over the last few weeks, the flood waters have only trickled away now exposing waterlogged and damaged banks, paths, access tracks and bridges all conspiring to delay the start of their season.  Several have delayed until the start of May and one large multi beat estate near Stockbridge have pushed it to the start of June. This will mean loss of revenues for the estates and I suspect that the fear of that will drive many to open too early. Prepare for some muddy wet banks. Delete carpet slippers, insert wellies.

There are many positive consequences of all the water which are well known and generally will improve the health of the river for its many residents and for us.

One possible unwanted consequence of the high levels could be caused by the presence of high levels of artificially introduced nutrients. Suspended solids with phosphates and nitrates attached are washed off the fields, eventually settle and have the same effect on river plants and algae as their originally intended crops. Several chalkstreams started the season last year with clarity less than gin. It had little negative effect on the fishing and on occasions was a positive help! Early suggestions were extended runoff colour or possibly algal bloom. If the latter then this year could be more extreme. More rain, more suspended solids could mean more nutrients. We won't know for a while but as the daylight hours extend the effect could be more apparent. Worse of course for the stillwaters but may yet affect the rivers.

The salmon season so far is the classic curates egg. The North Tyne, now without challenge the best English salmon river, is fishing its little Geordie socks off. There are fish running the Dee and the Spey but fort hose rivers, it's still a little early to judge. Odd things on the Tweed. Those fishing the lower beats, which flourish in low water, watched as early fish avoided the seals and screamed through but instead of spreading themselves evenly from Cornhill to Kelso they all seemed to get caught at Junction which is currently the rivers shining star. The Tay has battled with high water but is producing a few lovely big shiny spring fish. I guess it was never going to emulate last seasons early big numbers start.

I went out for a glorious, bright but bitter March day on my favourite Devon stream. Did not see a thing but it was great to chill my knees.

My platforms are now drying in the sun having reemerged from the flooded Fonthill Lake and a few days of repairs had them all spick and span and ready to start teaching people to enjoy the best pastime in the world. My first antediluvian student, a Welshman (I had to mention the rugby so he recalled 2013 - we called it quits and moved on) wanted to get ready for a week on the Spey.  By the end of a long hard day he was throwing a great line and will have a wonderful week.

The seasons nearly here ... not long now.

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.