Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

August 2014 - Weedcuts,Cohibas and sea trout.

- By Graham Waterton

The chalk stream season followed a fairly unpredictable path through August. The weather statistics will show one of the coolest August for decades. Instead of hot bright days and late evening rises (although there were a few of these) there were some unexpected daytime hatches and the evenings were often disappointing. For guided clients who often had to leave early this provided some unexpectedly good days. I had some lovely days guiding on the Test, Anton, Bourne Rivulet, Avon and Itchen where a sudden spell of sun or a change in temperature brought on a short but sweet hatch. I've given up trying to predict what will hatch. I would expect to see BWOs and a great variety of sedges, which I did  but I've also seen Iron Blues, mayflies and a good number of Pale Wateries this month.


The news from salmon rivers continued to be grim. It's too early to judge the whole season but it is clear that the 2014 grilse run has failed. Recently published comments from one of the Tay District Salmon Fisheries scientists made grim reading as he reported the worst July in years. Its pretty clear it is not just the Tay but the UK and to a greater or lesser extent Russia, Norway and Iceland. We will have to wait for the final judgment  but as is often the case, the Autumn run could give us good end to the year. I will travel with hope and confidence!


I was asked in mid August to find a days fishing and guide for someone who only had a couple of days free and they were at the end of the August weed cut. Having explained what weed cutting was all about he thought that what the end of that but, not necessarily so.


Weedcutting is the process of cutting the 'in stream vegetation' (ranunculus or crowfoot being the most prolific) which grows in our chalk streams.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/flowering-ranunculous.jpg We do it principally to maintain a healthy and diverse habitat and to control water levels. It can have the effect of making more of the river fishable but should not be the priority although occasionally is, by the more commercial fisheries.  It is however a dilemma  and a constant nightmare for fishery owners and river keepers as a poorly judged cut can detrimentally affect a beat for the rest of the season. If the last weed cut is botched it can ruin the beat for the early part of the following season, particularly if the winter levels are exceptional high, as last winter. Keepers need the judgement of Solomon to balance the environmental, water level and fishing access consequences of these cuts.


The vast majority of weed is cut by river keepers, by wading in the river and using hand scythes, as it has been for over a century. I remember only too well that these periods are some of the physically demanding weeks of the year. I have only scratched the surface of a complicated river management issue but as ever it is the fishery managers and river keepers who are at the forefront of caring for our beautiful chalk streams.


Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/well-cut-weed.jpgEach river system has predetermined dates when weed cutting can take place, normally 3 cuts a year, typically in June, July and August with some rivers having an early cut in April or early May. Rivers are often split into sectors with the upper sectors cutting first and those below following in sequence as the cut weed drifts downstream. At the end of each cutting period, there is a day or two for each beat to clear down the hung up weed.


It was one of these dates that my client wanted to fish. So we needed a beat at the top of a system, one where not much weed was cut above and where the upstream keepers cleared down quickly. I therefore booked one of the upper beats on the River Anton. It worked well. Water clear, virtually no weed coming down and fish pleasingly active. Chris, a good caster and a 'natural' fisherman caught some great fish with the bonus of some lovely wild fish and some large grayling. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/p8240085.jpgWe had a great time and celebrated with 2 huge Cohibas. Another day where the two old adages of 'trout live in beautiful places' and 'nice people fly fish' were proven beyond all doubt.


My itch for sea trout was finally satisfied with fish from both the Itchen and the Frome. All small fish but as ever a healthy indicator for the future. Some with upstream nymph and some swinging my standard 'squirrel and silver thingy'. My last trip I fished with the company of the resident dairy herd.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/frome-sea-trout-fishing.jpg The girls were more interested in trimming the margins than watching me so no applause when a couple of lovely tide bright sea trout were caught and released.

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/frome-sea-trout.jpg


















One of my more enjoyable days on the platforms was with a team going up to the Spey early in September. The weather was good, the lunch was excellent, courtesy of the Beckford Arms and we covered a huge amount over the course of a full day. One very experienced who learnt a few new tricks, one intermediate who needed some errors removing before they were committed to unchangeable muscle memory and a complete novice. With him I concentrated on the circle cast and the double spey off both shoulders. This gives him options on both banks with all winds and will get him fishing straight away. We'll concentrate on the harder 'touch and go casts' next time. Lots achieved and laughs all day. The catches on their beat have improved significantly with the late August rain so I hope they continue to get good water for their week in early September.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/casting-tea-break.jpg


As I write, Bardarbunga continues to rumble threatening my Iceland trip in 10 days. Has anyone done any research in to the effect of earthquakes and volcanos on salmon taking times?


Full report next month!

July 2014 - Good fishing even in blazing July

- By Graham Waterton

Variety is important in any job and if the old saying is correct, I had the spiciest of Junes. The not untypical post mayfly chalkstream doldrums normally caused by hot, bright, dry weather and lazy, satiated, fat boy trout, should have combined to give some tough days fishing but often and on two notable occasions, that trend got bucked.

Following a difficult day on the upper middle Test, I  was hosting a day on The Bossington Estate, the middle Test between Stockbridge and Romsey. My early meeting with the river keeper suggested that my 'bet hedging' of having both river beats and lake booked could work well as the previous few days on the river, under continuing dazzling sunshine, had been tough added to which we had a number of complete beginners. The rods were sent off with guides and casting instructors and to be honest I was expecting the lunch discussions to be dominated by success on the lake and disappointment on the river. The opposite happened. The rainbows did not perform but the river gave up some smashing fish to all its rods. Fortunately fortunes reversed in the afternoon and all beginners caught and went home with a fish.


 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/horsebridge-lake-bossington.jpg


The following week saw the hot and bright weather continue, so when Friday came, it was no surprise when the river keeper, this time on the Avon, again predicted a tough day. The guides met, we discussed tactics and created a plan to give our guests the best possible chance. Where was the most shade, a bit of breeze, where were the fish? We needn't have worried. For some reason fish took nymphs and rose to dries nearly all day under a blazing sun and kept me running ragged to net fish.  Every day is different with subtle changes but I guess the message is, just keep fishing.


In the middle of the month we went to The Game Fair at Blenheim Palace. Friday, for me, is the best day and as ever it was a delight to bump into lots of old friends. The weather was tropical and I had to sympathise with stall holders stuck under canvas all day. One highlight for me was my old friend Charles Jardine being presented with the Arthur Ogelsby Award for his lifetimes contribution to fishing. This charming and most talented man continues to give tirelessly to fishing through his work with schools. Many congratulations to him.


I had a number of lessons to give, mostly to salmon fishers heading north, all who travel in hope rather than expectation as the dry season continues. As ever, although the news is not good, the weather has to break, the fish will arrive and it may be you that is in the right place at the right time. It will be the second summer of no water but some localised rain in a spate river catchment or a run of grilse into one of the bigger rivers can turn a lean week into a bonanza. As I write I see rain forecast for the north.


I never fail to enjoy helping a novice to catch his first fish. I've had a good number this year but 7 year old Inigo was just a treat. He and his father wanted to learn to cast but with someone of that age it was essential to get him his first fish and keep him interested and absorbed. It was this which took us to a small clear stillwater stocked with rainbows, rather than the river. It wasn't long before the basics of casting and fishing were covered and he was soon playing his first fish. What a smile! He was almost as happy in gutting and cleaning the fish. Hands bloodied his smile just got bigger. That evening he ate his fish and the next day his father booked a second day!

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/first-fish-joy.jpg


The last two days of the month were both enjoyable but demonstrated the great variation of chalkstream fishing that is available. The first, a days guiding on the Test at Compton where the main river is wide and beautifully cared for. Both my teenage clients caught lots of big strong brown trout, and although stocked fish, were in excellent condition. It was mainly nymphing as under the continuing hot bright weather and on a beat with little shade, there was virtually no fly on the water. Challenging fishing and a great day was had by all.


Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/compton-3-pounder.jpgPicture: /blog-files/blog/w288/compton-three-pounder.jpg


If the middle test is the Brobdingnag of chalkstreams the next day I was on the Lillipution Arle, one of the stunning little tributaries which contribute to the upper Itchen. Amazingly from 10.00 in the morning until dark, mainly under unbroken sun, we found fish feeding and moving to flies both on and subsurface. This tiny stream is a lightly tamed wilderness and holds a wonderful head of wild brownies. My host Richard, caught a stunning fish, well over two pounds and we lost count of the total number we caught and released. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/arle-2-6.jpg


It is heavily treed, best waded and a challenge to any caster, but the rewards for patience and precision are some stunning wild fish.


Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/arle.jpg 

So this high summer month so often disparaged by fly-fisherman, produced some wonderful fishing. We are still reaping the rewards of the winter rain and the chalk valleys are still lush and vibrant. There's nowhere better to be.

June 2014 - All good mayfly seasons come to an end

- By Graham Waterton


After almost two weeks of wonderful mayfly guiding, June started with a nice change. Firstly a session on the platforms getting a salmon fisherman ready for his annual trip to Russia and then, at last, a chance to cast a line with a fly at the end. 

My casting client was off to the River Pana, a tributary of the Varzuga. Early reports from most Russian rivers, which open in the first half of June, suggest a good start to the Kola salmon season with the numbers reported off the Varzuga and Ponoi systems looking particularly impressive. Week three's report from Ryabaga on the Ponoi produced 1660 salmon to 19 rods!

As all Icelandic rivers will be open by the end of June we should start getting a more comprehensive view of their start to the season very soon. I'm dwelling on the overseas opportunities because to be frank, the news from Scotland remains distinctly below par. Fish are being caught but inconsistent levels are making fishing challenging on nearly all the rivers.

My bets are hedged with a trip to Iceland in September and with clients, to The Tweed in October and November.

Like many UK salmon fisherman I'm praying for a good back end. (The Oxford Dictionary defines 'back end' as 'the end of something which is furthest from the front'!)

My damp evening fishing was on a delightful beat of the rIver Nadder near Teffont Evias managed by The Teffont Fishing Club, A delightful, well kept fishery which produced fish for me and my host from a steady rise to both mayfly duns and spents. 

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/wild-nadder-brown-trout.jpg


The weather over the following few days improved and two days guiding on the Avon saw good hatches of duns, albeit later in the day with some short but intense rises to spinner falls late in the evening. This was the pattern of the mayfly activity well into the bright hot weather that we enjoyed from the middle of the month. Typically the mayfly slows first in the east but the Avon system and the Frome had some steady hatches and excellent evenings on the spent right through June. On one evening on the Wylye, I skirted the river to the top of the beat through the water meadows.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/adult-mayfly.jpg These rich ancient pastures have an astonishing range of grass and wild flower varieties and on that evening were covered in thousands of adult mayfly performing their up and down dance of life and death. Eventually they fell into waiting mouths and I was able to take advantage.

Overall a good mayfly season.


I had two trips to the Frome trying to intercept one of the big early season sea trout. The first was fishless bit I did get attached to one on my second. It wasn't dark but the river was still and quiet. I was casting in a trance, carefully and rhythmically when I felt that sudden and frankly unexpected snatch at the fly. It's like a jot of electricity but the plug got pulled after a few seconds. Heart rate calms. Move on. It's why we do it.

The day I chose to fish the Tamar was the same day the EA chose to clear the mountain of winter flood debris from the old stone four arch bridge at the top of the beat.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/tamar-coloured-debris.jpg


After hooking, playing and landing my fourth branch in colouring water we gave it best and I went down to the coast to catch some mackerel and some very willing pollack.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/pollack.jpg Strange really that you start out for a salmon but a lowly pollack easily satisfies the need in the end.


Post mayfly chalkstream guiding, or fishing for that matter, has its challenges and when the forecast was clearly for hot bright sunny days, aarly start, a long rest in the middle and back for the evening rise was the order of the day. Not all clients can do this but those who can stick it out 'till dark were rewarded. I get some funny looks wearing a head torch for an evening rise but it gives you a few more fly changes in the gloaming and saved the day on one evening at Wherwell, on the Test, when a last change spinner snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a two pounder in the dark.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/test-at-wherwell.jpg



Organised by my adorable niece, I spent a weekend with the talented South African photographer RIchard Johnson. He captured some remarkable images as he followed me round for a couple of days on the river and on my platforms. He very kindly let me use some of his beautiful pictures which are now on my website. It was fascinating to see the casting of a double handed rod through the eyes of a non fisher. He captured an elegance and beauty which we practitioners so often miss.

My diary for July looks full of variety.















Fine and Far Off

- By Graham Waterton

Discovering the delights of The Grange fishery on the Itchen, the Arle and the Candover Brook was one of last seasons delights as a caption in Major Baird's lovely little book, A Trout Rose, so delicately describes:


'so the three, having found one another journeyed together down to the sea'


Although memories of my Avon grayling season of 2013 are damp and murky, as a lover of clear water stalking The Grange was a delight but a stark reminder of some of this type of fishings basic rules.


But let me go back a few years.


For the clear water stalker New Zealand truly is the 'anglers eldorado'. As I write this in cold wet January I'm getting a little green-eyed to hear so many preparing for their annual trip when my last was made some years ago. It was on that trip that I bought Catching Trout by Les Hill and Graeme Marshall. Buying the book was as close as I would get to Marshall as having tried to book him as my guide he decided to retire just before my trip. However I found some brilliant guides and the whole experience was one the most influential times in my fishing career.


Les Hill and Graeme Marshall collaborated on two books in the 1980s and 1990s. Both Kiwis and lifelong fisherman, Les was a school teacher and Graeme a professional guide. Their first book was Stalking Trout, their second Catching Trout and their titles hint at their no nonsense approach. Both are highly practical works describing the techniques for catching spooky wild trout in the clear back country streams of both North but more specifically South Island.

Their second book has a chapter entitled 'Concentration', an under estimated quality for all fisherman but particularly those who sight fish for big wild fish, where chances are few and far between.

In that chapter they sum up their basic stalking skills.


'While stalking I employ three defensive ploys. I move as slowly as possible, I stay as far from the waters edge as I can while still having a good view into the water and I search as far upstream as I can, hoping to locate fish while still out of their most perceptive forward or side-on vision.'


So obvious you may think, but after casting, I believe these are the next most important skills for fisherman who like stalking in clearwater and so often ignored by chalkstream fisherman. This mantra is explored widely in their first book but that paragraph so concisely sums up what our approach to all clearwater situations should be.


Contemporary nymphing at the moment is dominated by the Euro nymphing techniques developed so successfully by the international river fishing teams of The Czech Republic and France in particular but now adopted by all. These techniques are characterised by a single or team of relatively heavy nymphs fished short, in some cases under the rod tip, on a long light rod as the angler advances slowly upstream. Aficionados wax lyrical about the subtleties of fly choice (heavy up or down), leader construction (length, furled, bead indicators etc) rod length and of course technique. I've dabbled and they are fun and in the right situations, undeniably effective. We should not forget that these techniques were developed and work best on slightly deeper rivers often with coloured water and a quarry of mainly bottom hugging grayling. I'm not convinced about their effectiveness on the classic chalkstreams with shallow clear water although they do work on deeper runs. In the antediluvian weeks of late September last year I used a similar technique most successfully on the broads running a heavy nymph under the rod tip between beds of ranunculus.  But the key to that success and these modern nymphing techniques is that the fish can't see the angler.


So back to The Grange and the Kiwis three basic principles.


Firstly move as slow as possible. How many times do fisherman have to be reminded that movement can be seen by fish in all directions well away from the proximity of their 'window'. Add to this heavy footfall and clumsy wading and slow movement becomes a stalking  fundamental. As many readers of this will have discovered, on The Shallows (Beats 1and 2 of The Grange) for instance, one clumsy movement sends ripples upstream 20 or 30 yards.


If you have fished in New Zealand their second point about staying as far from the bank as possible is obvious. Their back country streams and our freestone streams for that matter have no cut paths. There is no hip height clipped margin. You therefore feel that you have to stay back. On so many chalkstreams you are pushed towards the rivers edge by fences, trees and mown banks and then given a false sense of security with the margin 'hedge'.

But assuming you can't wade it is still desirable to keep as far back as you can.



Their third point is I think part of the key to success in all sight fishing situations. Spot your target early. We tend to scan water far to close to us. It seems quite obvious that  a fish spotted out of range gives you time to consider your options and a much better chance of success but so often we hurry and don't spot the signals every fish gives, even at distance.

The most delightful place to see this in action, I believe, is on the flats. If you ask a good local guide where he is looking it will be far further out than you. Of course reasonable eyesight is a prerequisite but assuming that, if you get into the habit of looking further out, with practice, you will spot the target earlier.

Having spotted the fish early and far off it is tempting to make the approach immediately to where you will cast.  I would suggest you have to gain all the required information from distance ie depth of the fish (if your'e nymphing), what's he eating, what's the water doing around him. At distance you make the leader and fly adjustments and have mentally made the decision about what is the best presentation cast to avoid drag and present delicately.

Where do you cast from? Simply your Maximum Effective Casting Range. Any further away, your cast risks being ineffective in terms of presentation and accuracy and any closer you risk spooking your fish. Clearly that spot must be suitable for the cast you want to make in terms of obstructions.


In a sort of preface to Catching Trout  there are 2 or 3 pages entitled The First Cast. It tells the story of one large fish which nosed the fly on the first cast but ignored it on the subsequent better casts. I recognise that problem. It goes on;


'Much of our talk, long into that night, centred around the number of fish deceived on the first cast and the number of fish which refused our initial offering through some minute foible and were not to be tempted beyond inspection again.

The first cast. If the assumption of its importance has substance, if it offers the greatest chance of luring a feeding fish, then perhaps it deserves appropriate attention. Heed your fly choice, tread lightly and present delicately. A mindful first cast is a tribute to the trout, a tribute to its instinct and nobility. This compliment paid will reap reward'


Sound advice, elegantly delivered.


As we have just done, they go on to describe many ways of ensuring the first cast works.  A lot on reading the water, casts to combat drag and of course those stalking techniques.


One particular tip I really liked was the importance of long leaders. In New Zealand 4/5/6 metre leaders are often required for all the normal reasons. In addition they advise this length because it forces you to cast a long line. You can't turn over a 15 ft leader with 10 ft of flyline outside the rod tip. To get a long leader, whatever the taper, to turn over well you need a good length of line out. Sounds obvious but this keeps you well away from the fish. Maybe not for the novice but as ever, long, accurate, delicate casts delivered from your MECR do improve your chances.


This is not just a chalkstream issue. As suggested these principles apply to all sight fishing situations, freestone rivers, saltwater flats and clearwater salmon rivers like Iceland. The process my guide made me go though on the Midfjardara last September was much the same. For example, if we were fishing a pool upstream, we approached quietly from downstream. Prepared fly and leader early, waded slowly and quietly, took the first cast from the MECR and concentrated on the perfection of the first cast. Most importantly do nothing to alert the fish of your presence. So often forgotten by salmon fisherman.


In New Zealand they often only get one chance at those big beautiful trout. This directs their preparation and their approach. I think it teaches us good lessons.

Both books are now published as one which is available through The Halcyon Press.



Graham Waterton digs into fishing literature in his blog  Fishing Words, part of his website

May 2014 - 'Where else would you want to be?'

- By Graham Waterton

May is the month when all our hopes and dreams for the season ahead become a reality. All the winter worries, the doubts and the anxieties drift away as the early hatches submerge them into our memories. And so it has been this May, a busy one with some particular high-points for me.


The first week had a few last minute cancelled days guiding. How can you be too busy to go fishing? Luckily the weather wasn't great and I kept myself busy instructing a number of fly fisherman who had their eyes on distant rivers and flats. As the weather improved, hours by the lake were a joy. What a beautiful place to lean how to cast.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/stickwithoutbrains-casting-platforms.jpg




The guiding continued with most clients achieving success although conditions were often less than kind. As the weather improved, the daylight hours expanded and the sun appeared which improved hatches but for some rivers, also brought on the May blight of algal bloom. Our rivers are not the only waters that suffer. In mid May I had a long weekend in Devon, of which more later, and went out on the rocks to try and catch some early mackerel. Three out of the last 4 years I have caught mackerel here by the second week of the month. Not this year. A local crab fisherman told me that what he called 'Mayweed' was the worst he could remember. Coastal algal bloom exacerbated by the extraordinary amounts of phosphate rich suspended solids washed off the land this last winter. But if the mackerel didn't like it the huge jellyfish did and there were dozens drifting around, some as big as dustbinsPicture: /blog-files/blog/w288/giant-jellyfish-devon.jpg  I wonder if these canoeists knew they were surrounded?




Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/jellyfish-canoeists.jpg


The first high point came in the middle of the month when I was invited to fish the Bourne Rivulet. This Test tributary, much loved and described by Harry Plunkett Green in his classic book Where The Bright Waters Meet, was on great form and gave me three beautiful wild brownies, one about two pounds and in such good condition. The fattest and fittest wild trout I have seen for a while.



Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/bourne-rivulet-wild-brown-trout.jpg

All our chalkstreams are fragile ecosystems, in constant risk and none is safe, but this one seems, at least at the moment, healthy and full of food for its residents.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/bourne-rivulet.jpg That session inspired a Fishing Words blog, which you may enjoy. It was a memorable few hours spent by a beautiful river.




Another day of my Devon trip was spent on the River Avon, a freestone river which rises on Dartmoor, wanders through The South Hams and joins the sea at Bantham. A good stretch is available through the excellent South West Rivers Trust Passport scheme. It was simply one of the most enjoyable days I have had for some years. For the first hour or so there was only a few fish moving and a couple fell for a small 'f fly'. Then by midday with bright sun overhead I found a long shaded stretch where fish were moving regularly to a variety of flies.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/river-avon-south-devon.jpg Olives, black gnats, small dark sedges and even a lonely mayfly put an appearance.  I like a New Zealand rig in these situations. You can prospect the deeper runs, cover rising fish and sighted fish. Technical and occasionally tricky to flick under the trees but worth the effort. A #16 Klink Adams with a #16 WHM underneath tempted another eight fish with two about 12 inches ... that is huge for this little moorland fed stream!Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/river-avon-wild-brown-trout.jpg I had a smile on my face for hours.





I was then booked back to back with mayfly guiding until the end of the month. I met some wonderful people throughout my property career but guiding has confirmed my belief that nice people fly fish. I have, and hopefully helped, some lovely and fascinating people on the river bank and these last 2 weeks have been no exception. We have had some superb days as the first fortnight of the mayfly hatch unwound. I bang on endlessly about the relationship between fishing and the weather but this mayfly season has so far benefitted from what would normally be considered poor May weather. The odd cold day, rain showers, and a lot of overcast but warm weather gave sparse hatches over extended periods or short intense hatches for an hour or two. All gave good fishing with a few frantic rises when the fish threw themselves at the fly, well presented or not. These events are what mayfly folklore is made, but as I explored in another Fishing Words blog it is not always easy!

It's as if Mother Nature in order to get these remarkable insects hatched to complete their ephemeral life cycle,  snatches an hour here or an hour there forcing them out when the conditions are favourable for their procreation. Then shuts them down in an instant when something triggers her doubts. But whenever they appear they fall prey not just to fish but a myriad of other predators from fluffy ducklings to swooping snapping swifts as they scream up and down the river. On occasions it is good to stand back from the frenetic casting and catching and observe as the whole event is a performance I never tire of watching.


As I write the mayfly hatch is continuing although fish are becoming harder to fool as they become full and fat and fussy, differentiating between artificial and natural. Soon the spinner falls will take over from the dun hatch as the opportunity to catch that special fish. Looking forward to that.