Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

November 2014 - Salmon Disaster and Graceful Grayling

- By Graham Waterton

Winter fishing wouldn't be the same without rain, occasional storms and the resulting unfishable rivers. All part of the challenge to find fishable beats and learn how to fish in those conditions of high and coloured water. So remembering last year in particular, every good grayling day must be grabbed. November started unseasonably warm and although the water looked great the grayling were spread out; catchable but fussy. The month ended with a couple of frosts and some much lower temperatures, all good signs. I had some lovely sessions on the Itchen and the Avon where some quality fish were tempted on nymphs but many to dries. It felt more like September!



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After a few days chasing grayling my thoughts turned to the Tweed again.


I had a three day trip to Boleside to instruct and guide for a novice who was part of a six man team.


Sadly my client's business commitments got the better of him and he couldn't make it. If there was one year to miss, however, this was it. Salmon don't like unsettled conditions and we had them. Levels up and down and colour changing by the hour resulted in only a few hours of steady fishing over three days and no fish. There were a few fish in each pool but no evidence of fresh ones, essential not just to catch but to stir up the residents. It was a lovely few days but just not quite the same without a fish or two. We all came home early.



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By all accounts the 2014 salmon season has been a shocker. There are consequences of good salmon years and bad salmon years but bad years always bring gloomy thoughts.  Bad years are more often than not met with shrugs of resignation and comments like "That's salmon fishing". This isn't complacency, just the tired acceptance of fishermen who have watched those good years all but disappear. A real consequence is that we all reconsider next year. Do we go back again? Different beat? Different time?  Different river? Different country? There's going to be a lot of reshuffling before next season, I fancy.


What are the real reasons why they didn't appear this year? The factors that affect our rod catches are many and they impact on the salmons life cycle in so many ways. I'm no fishery scientist, nor an expert on global warming or commercial netting but you don't need the brains of an archbishop, as they say, to know we are casting at significantly less salmon than in the past. It's not difficult to list dozens of factors, both natural and man made, that affect these fish. From the local spawning conditions in each catchment to estuarine and coastal predation; from catchment water levels to the many possible effects of global warming; from commercial high seas netting to the effects of coastal fish farming;  from estuary and coastal netting to the pelagic fisheries bycatch of smolts, to name but a few.


Those with a positive state of mind, and that occasionally includes me, see bad years, like 2014, as simply a moment when the downturns of some of these cycles coincide. That year when we had no rain, or when 4 or 5 years ago there was poor spawning conditions, or the season when some Viking bandits has a good year scooping them out of the sea. Oh well, it'll be better next year. Then of course what's worse is when we have the opposite. When the high points of these cycles fall into place we all have a good year. Whilst that rare good year may restore some faith it also has a negative consequence, it generates complacency.  They lull us into believing all is well. Well it isn't.  The fact is the good years are less good and happen less often.


Even those prolific Atlantic salmon  fisheries in Russia, Iceland, Norway and New Brunswick all had poor years.


Some of these factors are cyclical, others are long term downward trends, particularly those linked to global warming but many are reversible if action is started now.

I'm not naturally a campaigner and if you're the same I suggest at the very least you should support our campaigning organisations to try and help them affect the reversible factors. 


On the same subject have a look at this. A good read and it explains much of what is happening at sea to our beautiful Atlantic salmon.


December's fishing, as ever will depend on the weather. Talking to a head river keeper a few days ago he reminded me of the carnage caused by last winters storms and floods, not just the extra repair work but for many the late opening of the season. Fingers crossed for a more 'normal' winter. I shall continue my hunt for a big grayling and some big old chalkstream pike.



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If you needed reminding of the special but fragile nature of our chalkstreams, have a read of this lovely piece from Charles Rangeley Wilson, delivered to the WWF on the launch of their new report ' The State of England's Chalk Streams'.


Amongst all this gloom I had a lovely bit of news recently. I have been asked to paint a 59.5lb atlantic salmon caught on the River Wye in 1923. It is believed to be the largest British rod caught spring salmon and as is so often the case, caught by a woman. Can't wait to get started. See Painted Fish



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Have a good December and an excellent Christmas.


October 2014 - Chub, Tweed and Grayling

- By Graham Waterton

Serious grayling fishing for most starts as their trout season ends but in the confusing world of close seasons there is huge overlap. The official season for trout on the Test, for instance, ends on the 31st Oct but most fisheries end as much as a month earlier. So while some had started to chase grayling,  I still had a few days trout guiding at the start of the month. One at Timsbury, where on a June like warm day with a range of fly hatching, my client not only caught his first trout but also his first chub.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/first-test-trout.jpgPicture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chub-on-a-fly.jpg These fish look stunning at this time of the year and in chalk streams are tough to catch as they see so many fisherman and so many flies throughout the season.  Not many years ago, 40 maybe, the management norm was to net or electro fish out and kill everything other than trout. We now know this is counterproductive and where the river is suitable a mixed species fishery is a healthy one. Americans I recently guided for on the Kennet was amazed and delighted to catch, not only brown and rainbow trout but chub, roach, dace, perch and bream, all on fly.





For many years my fishing club, The Piscatorial Society, has organised an annual ritual where 10 fisherman from Yorkshire take on 10 from the Society in a 6 hour grayling fest. At the outset, in the early 80s, it was highly competitive but for many years we have fished in a less competitive fashion fishing barbless, practising careful catch and release and scoring in a way that doesn't demand handling fish, other than to release them.



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It's a great day and enjoyed in a genuine spirit of camaraderie by all. The weather was grim but as we fished in torrential rain my thoughts could not help but drift north.





The following day I was heading to the Tweed. A few days before after nearly three dry months, the Fishpal gauge for Sprouston was -6 ins. On the Saturday afternoon it was +8ft!  The first good spate after a long dry spell is often very dirty but runs off quickly and amazingly we were fishing at a good level on Monday morning. Over the three days we had unsettled weather, a river up and down like a yo yo and changing colour by the hour but my clients as well as improving their casting hugely, managed a couple of fish including a stunning 7lb sea trout. 



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A great success. Makerstoun is a beautiful beat and head boatman Colin Pringle could not have been more welcoming and helpful.



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Back in the south I started to get serious about grayling. If you speak to most chalk stream fisherman they seem to catch two pounders regularly. The classic trophy benchmark. The truth is, most haven't. Firstly genuine two pounders are rare. Grayling only live for five or six years and although nearly all are released, big grayling don't go on for many seasons, most only survive at that size for a year or two. Secondly they're easy to overestimate. If you are catching and seeing half pounders throughout the trout season, a fish of a pound and a half looks huge and many are mistaken for the trophy we all seek. Two pounders, as well as being 46/47 cms long,  are fat and thick across the shoulders. As Fred Taylor said about perch, a big grayling is a very big fish. And let no one tell you they are easy. True, most average sized fish are willing to please but the big chalk stream fish have seen it all by the time October comes round and if you fish fine, as you so often have to, a big grayling in a fast flowing weedy stream is a serious problem. 


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Will I find a two pounder over the next few months? Well it won't be for lack of effort.



My next Tweed trip beckons and by the end of November we will have a better idea of whether the 2014 salmon season was just bad or a disaster. And I need to have a close look at Andrew Thins' Wild Fisheries Review. If you do, here's the link.

September 2014 - Summer September, Iceland and Grilse

- By Graham Waterton

Early September gave me some lovely days guiding with no fewer than five newcomers to flyfishing catching their first fish on the chalkstreams. I know some of you don't believe me but it really is almost as good as catching them myself.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/andrews-first-trout.jpg Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/helens-first-trout.jpgThe trout season continues well into October but many estate beats shut down at the end on September. The normal late September days, bathed in early Autumnal colours were not here this year. Warm breezes or even breathless days extended summer, the fly hatches continued and the fish, as if knowing hard times were ahead continued to feed, on occasions with early season abandon. It was strange to see, for the first time, some water levels looking low but this was on beats with no weed. Some never recovered from last winters scouring floods, were suffering from early die back or the ravages of herds of rampaging swans. I still have some trout days in early October but for those who end in September it was a great end to the season. 









Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/iceland-sunset.jpgThere could not have been a greater contrast from this Iceland trip to last years. In 2013 I travelled light. Fly boxes filled with diminutive micro trebles, cone heads and tube flies. Only larger Sunrays and Collies poked out of the edges. Predicted temperatures of about 10/11 degrees, a few fleeces and light weight layers would do. Well, you may remember rain raised the river and gave a tinges of colour. No chance of spotting fish and large flies were required. We all searched for a few brass tubes or slid tungsten cones over the Sunrays heads. We caught fish though in bitter cold unseasonal weather.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/iceland-salmon.jpg


What a difference a year makes on the Midfjardara. Even though the early reports coming back in August described a low river and abnormally warm weather, I was not going to be caught out. This year my bag was weighed down with brass and tungsten and every fleece I owned. 

Yes you've guessed it. Higher than average daytime temperatures and a very low river. It was out with the #16 trebles and the micro of micro tubes.

But we bucked the trend, caught fish and had a great time. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/iceland-night-salmon.jpgIt is a magic place.
On occasions it was chalkstream tactics. Sneaking about, long, delicate upstream casts, twitching tiny flies back over reddening noses. Can you imagine the Oykel, Helmsdale or Naver with summer low conditions but full of taking fish?

One consequence of the grilse failure this year was the high average size. We caught three fish over a metre. That's over 23 pounds! No whoppers for me this year but I did catch my first arctic char. Pretty little fish.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/iceland-arctic-char.jpg


The grilse failure once again exposed the dire state of our salmon stocks. In previous blogs I expressed hopes for the Scottish Salmon Review, due to be published this month. How naive I am. I fished with a recently retired Scottish lawyer in Iceland who was convinced the Thin report would be a whitewash. Ignoring the plight of the wild fish and pandering to the Scottish politicians wish to support the lucrative but utterly destructive fish farming industry. Get hold of the September issue of Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine. Look at the letter from Jenny Scobie. Scary, scary reading. In the same issue read also the depressing letters from Ian Gordon and Orri Vigfusson.  Paxo got stuck in too. Read the interview with Robert Hardman in the MailOnline.


I will still travel to Tweed in October and November with hope. I so want my clients to catch their first salmon in Scotland, as I did. As I write with a week to go to my first Tweed trip, there is the smell of rain in the north. Will it be enough? Are there any fish?



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.

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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.


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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!

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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.


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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.


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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.