Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

February 2015 - Pike and Even Bigger Pike

- By Graham Waterton

Even an ardent believer of the presentation school, every now and again becomes obsessed with a single fly pattern. Witness my two full boxes of Ally's Shrimps from the mid 90s. I hardly caught a salmon on anything else. Well of course I hardly fished with anything else, because they always worked. Put on the right size Ally's and concentrate on depth and casting. Job done.

Well my heart is lost again to a pike fly called a Flash Tailed Whistler. It started last season when I caught a lot of pike on a fly found lurking at the bottom of my tarpon box. It caught my eye because someone had said about the pike in their beat;


" If they're in the mood  they'll take anything, as long as it's got some orange in it"

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/flash-tail-whistler.jpg

So there it was, flashy, orange headed and begging for a swim; last season it worked consistently. I only had two of these flies and they had lasted me several outings but the toothy critters did their damage and both got rather mangy. First few times out this year it once again caught fish, both for me and clients including a lovely fish of about 12 pounds. But then I lost one. No one stocked it and I was told that the company that sold them had gone out of business. I scrounged another from a chums box which I proceeded to lose next time out. Fishing hard with only one magic fly left is a little nerve wracking. A bit like driving in a hurry on 9 points. If you can't buy and you can't tie, there really is only one option. So I took my last sorry looking specimen on my trip to the British Fly Fair International  to find a tyer who could knock some up. I think I said last month that whatever the question, you find the answer at the BFFI and it didn't let me down. After a few enquiries, all fingers pointed to Scottish tyer Dougie Loughridge who not only identified it (as up to then it had been 'the flashy orange one') but agreed to tie some up and a couple of articulated variants. Within two days Dougie had replenished my box. My new hero. In case your wondering why Dougie knows about this fly and its effectiveness, I should tell you that his email address is Sort of says it all.


Next trip on the Test, a client caught a 20 pounder. On a bitterly cold day we had turned three and with less than an hour of daylight left decided to walk back up to the top of the beat to cover one of them again. Second or third cast she was hooked. A stunning large female. On the same day another rod was spinning. He caught nothing.

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chalkstream-fly-caught-pike.jpg

Two weeks later with the same client, we had an extraordinary day. He rose seven pike and landed three. A mid twenty, a twenty and a low teen all on Dougie's Flash Tail Whistlers. Before you all beat an electronic path to his door, they probably don't work anywhere else because, of course, as I keep telling you, it's all about presentation.

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/twenty-pound-fly-caught-pike.jpg

If you've never done it, you should have a go. It is a little surreal to be casting single handed into the same water in which you've been catching trout and grayling and see a four foot green crocodile rise out of the depths and swirl at your fly.

A highly recommended winter occupation.


Pike are very robust fish but still need to be looked after while unhooking. We no longer use 'gags', a rather barbaric metal spring which forced a pike jaws open and often damaged their mouth. Now there is a trick for coaxing their very toothy jaws open. First you lie the pike gently on its back, then by carefully sliding a finger just inside its gill plate you can grip its lower jaw and when you lift its head it magically opens wide and long nosed pliers can ease a single hook out quickly. The magic of YouTube has lots of clips demonstrating this. Because flyfisherman generally use one single hook rather than 2 or 3 trebles, the process is usually quick and the fish swiftly released.


You may quite reasonably be wondering why we tolerate trout munching pike on the chalkstreams. During my very brief keepering career over 30 year ago, all pike where removed. Thankfully since then much research has been done and a more balanced population is not only tolerated but has real benefits. After all, there is only one natural predator of an active hungry 5/6 pound pike and that's a bigger pike. Every beat should have a few big ones. And anyway they are just too wonderful to kill. 


Although the chalkstreams don't open until April, March sees freestone rivers around the country open. I will have my normal trip to Devon at some stage but I also have a trip to the Lake District to fish the Eden in mid March. A new experience and I can't wait.Salmon fishing has been patchy but a few spring fish are being caught on the bigger rivers and I will be on the Tweed in March.


If you have the catch all Salmon and Migratory Trout licence you will need another one soon, they run out at the end of March.


Nearly there.


January 2015 - The Flyfishers Social Whirl

- By Graham Waterton


For the second year my first fish was a fly caught chalkstream pike. Small, skinny, needle toothed, steely eyed, arrow shaped killers. Just beautiful...Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/avon.jack.pike.jpg


My host guided for me for several hours, cutting out the need for hours of blind casting. Just here and there, probing the slacks and holes. We both like fishing for its solitude and its seclusion but we ambled, paused, chatted and gossiped. It was another fine few hours reinforcing my mantra of beautiful places and nice people.


All my casting lessons were to Spey improvers, not surprising at this time of year, I suppose. Most will practice between lessons but some won't. Lack of time, no water nearby are the usual excuses or occasionally an inner belief that they've got it. Practicing spey casting without water is a genuine problem. So called 'grass leaders' don't really work and practising on grass can lead to lots of bad habits as the line slides across your lawn rather than being gripped by the water and giving you the required 'anchor'.   Muscles can pick up bad memories and timing goes out of the window. So overheads on grass are OK but for speys, there's no real substitute for water.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/casting.instruction.jpg


Some brilliant shiny spring salmon have arrived further north and a few are being caught but as the fishing opportunities for most of us in the south are slim at this time of the year, for the fishing socialites, there's plenty to do. As I write I have three events to look forward to.


The first is another of John Aplins' wonderful informal evenings in the village hall at West Stafford. John invented the Dorset Chalkstream Club in 2011 and runs a series of evening meetings over the winter. You bring a plate of food, grab a pint from the pub over the road and listen to a variety of speakers. Johns great charm and skills of persuasion enable him tempt all sorts of speakers and quite often apparently ordinary joes stand up and entertain with great adventures and tales of fishy derring do. We've had fishery scientists, well known authors and some of Britains flyfishing glitterati. And before you think the audience is limited to genteel dry flyers from the local streams, the lady I sat next next to last time (who I suggest is well over her three score years and ten) was telling me her technique for playing Giant Trevally! No membership, just turn up with your food, 2 quid in the bowl and have a lovely evening.


Doset Chalkstream Club


On a completely different scale, the BFFI is a two day event held at the Staffordshire County Showground, this year on the 7/8th February. At first glance you would say that this is a fly tying nerds only event. There are rows of eminent tyers, miles of tinsel, duvets of feathers and tons of tungsten beads. I go to support the AAPGAI stand and to catch up with all my casting nerd chums. You can tell a lot about people what they wear, so they say. Well for some reason most attendees are dressed in full camouflage or at least full fishing rig. I haven't seen anyone in waders yet but as these old buildings look a bit leaky, it's only a matter of time. So why come to flyfishing nerds central? Because there are all fisherman. Friendly, knowledgeable, from every part of the country and every walk of life. If you want to know what the answer is, ask the question here, someone will know. It's a fun two days.


Now for something completely different. If you want to rank fishing clubs for longevity, The Piscatorial Society is right up there, having been founded in 1837. In a few days time they have their annual Fly Day. As you would sort of expect, it's members and their guests only. I have to declare an interest here as I have been a member for 35 years as well as a year as one of their rivers keepers and many years on various committees. When I joined I was its youngest member and suspect I'm still under the average age of its learned membership. Both the subjects discussed and the speakers can be a touch serious, but in that room you have a group of delightful fishers. And reverting to dress for a moment, it's more tweed than fleece, if you know what I mean. There are of course some novices and some gifted amateurs in their membership but both in their past and present membership they have some of the most experienced chalkstreamers in the world and a team of fishery managers and keepers at the top of their game.


So three very different events, different cars in the car park, different accents, different drinks in their hands, different dress but to paraphrase old Isaac, all fully paid up members of the brotherhood of the angle, and delightful company for that.


Next month I should be telling you how to get ready for next season. How to clean your rods, polish your lines, mend your waders and sort out your fly boxes but I really hope I've got something more interesting to talk about.


December 2014 - Cold Feet and Fly Boxes

- By Graham Waterton

Occasionally I have doubts about why I like Winter fishing. It was many years ago that I discovered the rejuvenating effects of a winter trip to the tropics and this morning, for a while, I wished I was there. Yesterday I was over on the upper Itchen. It was lovely. Cold, bright, clear and a few grayling but not enough. So with another cold night/bright day forecast I left all my gear in the car ready for an early start and a few hours on the Avon.


It had been -6 overnight and the river looked stunning. Hoar frost clinging to everything and a low sun streaming through skeleton trees.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/winter-avon.jpg I pulled on my waders only to find my boots and gloves frozen solid. I forced my feet into them and hobbled to the river and dunked them into the steaming water. They thawed enough to fasten but we're mighty cold. Once on, I crunched up the frozen bank and as the water was slightly coloured, I went to the shallows at the top of the beat.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/winter-grayling-fishing.jpg I had fished for about an hour when the numbness started, after another thirty minutes my toes were dead. A few fish provided a distraction but when my feet stopped talking to me, it was time to climb out of the water.

The sun, filtering through the rivers steam from a brilliant blue sky was now high enough to warm; the rivers wildlife also took advantage. The frost was now dripping off the trees and every valley creature seemed to join me on the bank to dry off and warm up. Mallard and pheasant fluffed themselves up in the sunshine. A kingfisher flashed down towards me, stopped with instant braking and perched on a willow branch a few feet away. Coot and moorhen bobbed and scuttled in the margins and even the normally ultra spooky little grebe sat preening only a few yards away. After a cold start we all enjoyed the special warmth of winter sunshine. A single grayling rose to a unfortunate olive dun. I caught it and it dazzled in the sunlight. This was a fine place to be.




  Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/winter-grayling.jpg


With the prospect of starting to paint the 59.5lb salmon I mentioned last month, I managed to finish the striped bass, which turned out rather well. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/striped-bass.jpgThe salmon is enormous, 52 inches long and having prepared the silhouette, I need a bigger table!






There is one piece of fishing tackle which doesn't seem to get the thought or research that is lavished on rods, reels, lines and of course clothing. That is the flybox. No one has produced a really good one let alone the perfect one. Cheap ones are flimsy and last only as long as the clasps or hinges. The more modern and expensive examples seem to be so fat that only one fits in a pocket. A fault that the 'slit' type boxes have is that flies come lose and when you open the box either blow away or have formed into a tangled ball in a corner which my fat fingers can't pick out. Eventually the foam is shredded and another box goes in the bin. So I was intrigued to see a crowd funding project set up by a group of US based trout fisherman under the name of Tacky, to fund their mission to design and produce the 'perfect flybox'. I liked the look of them and was happy to invest in their challenge. The full story is told on their website but to cut a long story short, they raised more than enough for R&D, went into production and as well as winning awards has been selling well in the U.S. for over 6 months. As I believe, the only UK investor, they asked me for some advice in how best to distribute over here and I'm delighted to say that they have agreed that with Fulling Mill.


Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/tacky-fly-box.jpgThe Tacky box is great. I used it as my main dry fly box all last season and it performed perfectly. Thin but very robust, transparent lid, very strong hinges and a surprisingly effective magnetic closure. The real winner, though, is the lining. It is silicon which makes the slits very effective. They don't shred like foam and don't seem to have a memory. In other words the slit closes enough after one fly comes out to grip the next nice and tight. I think it's a winner. They have asked me to be a member of their pro staff team and I'm very pleased to have a continued involvement in the project. The current box is best for dries and nymphs but a wider range is under production.


The Tacky website is


You can get one from Fulling Mill, although it is not yet on their website. Their new brochure will be out in January.


At the moment it's all about planning and booking for next year. As far as overseas is concerned, I'm looking at a flats trip to Venezuela or Mexico followed by a few days in up state New York drift boating for early season Browns in the Catskills. 

For the last year I have been looking for some exclusive small river fishing in the UK for those clients who want a challenge and I'm pleased to say I have found several. Most is by private arrangement with the owners and not available through the normal sources. If you want something challenging, for wild fish for one or two rods please get in touch. One is on a Test tributary and is an absolute gem.


How are your plans going for 2015?


Keep in touch and I wish you all very happy New Year!


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!



Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/itchen-grayling.jpg


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.



Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/high-dirty-boleside-tweed.jpg




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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



Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/59.5-pound-salmon.jpg




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.



Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/november-grayling.jpg



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. 



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



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



Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/tweed-makerstoun.jpg



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. 


Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/autumn-avon.jpg


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.