Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

April 2015 - Otters: flower or weed?

- By Graham Waterton

How good it was to reach and pass April Fools Day.  At last the month when the trout season on the chalkstreams gets underway. It's rarely a great fishing month, weather normally inhibits the action to a few good days in the second half of the month and then, often only a few hours in the middle of the day. Sometimes, though it can be a wonderful few hours and thats why early season success is so special. No matter, it's just good to get out, look at the rivers and watch the trees and hedgerows edge from brown to green. How good it is to see that green bloom spread day by day along a familiar thorn hedge. 


The first few days were taken up with a very early Easter but as I had a full week of guiding and instruction the following week, some tidying up down on the platforms was needed. The estate forestry team did a fantastic job removing two dangerous dying oaks and some low branches annoyingly in the way of good long cast.  Close to one of the platforms is a stump, beside which a mallard had decided to nest.  Eleven eggs appeared and she started her 28 days of confinement. Over the next four weeks she had chain saws, tractors, trees falling, people cracking poorly timed backcasts over her head but other than the odd break for a wash and a preen, she sat tight. 

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/


The next two weeks were characterised by bright sunny days with a nagging cold east and north east wind. The rivers are currently running at a good height but with no significant April rainfall we will see aquifer levels drop and by late summer, some beats will look low. For the next 2 or 3 months however, weed growth will keep the water high and the May and June weedcut will be critical, as ever.

On the warmer days and in sheltered spots, it felt summery and flies and fish obliged for an hour or so either side of midday. All my guiding days brought fish to my visitors but it was far from easy and every bit of action was hard won. One notable day at Bossington on the Test gave my four rods a taste of the best of the chalkstreams. For two hours, the wind dropped and we had a hatch of olives, mainly early medium olives and spurwings and I suspect, a few pale wateries which got dozens of heads out of the water. It was a wonderful sight so early in the season and after plenty of missed rises and long distance releases, all four caught fish. Smiles all round. That was the day I heard my first cuckoo of the year.


Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/home.beat.brown.trout.jpgPicture: /blog-files/blog/w288/happy.client.jpg



The day after, I was invited by the owners to fish a private beat of the Upper Test as a recce for some future guiding work. I've known this fishery for years but hadn't fished there for some time and was lucky to get a sunny day and fish a very sheltered and much improved carrier. When olive hatches are sparse early in the season my go to fly is Bob Wyatt's Deer Hair Emerger and it didn't let me down. I had fish after fish. Can't wait to go back to guide there.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/upper.test.brown.trout.jpg



I managed to make my traditional early season trip to Devon and had another utterly delightful day.  The river was summer low and ran with amber tinged clarity. The valley was full of the smell of wild garlic and the river yielded a number of those small dapper, lightning fast wild trout. Towards the end of the afternoon as I fished up one tree covered reach, a diseased kelt drifted down past me towards the rejuvenating sea and with my next cast I caught a salmon parr. Life and death, natures cycle. I've written a longer article about this day which will appear in the May edition of the ezine Eat Sleep Fish. 



Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/ /blog-files/blog/w288/devon.brown.trout.jpg


The Test One Fly Competition was a belter this year. A record number of 36 competitors and their guides met at The Greyhound in Stockbridge for what has become an important early season ritual. After last years soaking, this year the weather was fine and the rivers in great condition. A record number of fish were caught and carefully released. My very capable fisherman came 12th and his team came second overall. A lovely day, immaculately organised, lots of friends and all conducted in great humour.


Most of the months instruction was spey casting from both the platforms and the river and was preparation for trips north and abroad later in the summer but I did have a lovely morning with three young trout fishers.  They picked it up quickly, were keen and attentive and to my surprise were very well behaved. All down to my natural control, of course, and nothing to do with their grandfather and mothers who oversaw from a distance.


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On my next few visits to the platforms I was preoccupied and not a little excited about the arrival of my eleven mallard ducklings. One morning a quick look showed an empty nest. There was no sign of mother or ducklings and no shell fragments. As the staff in Lindo Wing of St. Marys Hospital will tell you, precise timings in these matters are impossible but for my mallard mum the timing was about right. Where were they? The lake has a family of otters and their presence over recent years has had its effect on all the wildlife. The large carp and pike population of the lake has been significantly reduced with rotting, half eaten carcasses on the bank provided irrefutable evidence. The water fowl have also suffered, they even had a swan. Everyone who works and fishes that lake have noticed the decline. I used to like otters. There was a time when to see or hear an otter family on the Towy when night fishing for sea trout was an experience to be savoured. The otters were part of the scenery and to me there presence was a treat. I don't know what happened to my mallard family. They probably shouldn't, but my views on otters have changed. As they say about plants, a weed is a flower in the wrong place. Oh well, perhaps cougars eat otters.


I managed, eventually, to finish the painting of the 59.5lb salmon caught by Miss Davey in 1923 and it now hangs in her former family's home.

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/miss.daveys.59.5lb.salmon.jpg


For me, next months highlight is a trip to midstate New York to have a few days fishing in The Catskills. It will be early season for this Eastern fishery and after a long cold winter everything is late, so we will see. I hope to fish such iconic streams as the Beaverkill, the Willowmec and to drift boat on the Delaware, West Branch. I have some very special flies to use, of which more next month.


As I write, it is very cold but the forecast is for some warmer weather, as ever, from the south and west. The fishing will now improve and in a few weeks, as I return from the states to three weeks of almost continuous guiding, we will see the start of one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena, the mayfly hatch. I wouldn't be anywhere else.




March 2015 - 'wind from east, fish bite least'

- By Graham Waterton

The middle of the month saw the chequered flag for coarse fish and away from the chalkstreams the salmon season was well underway but the highlight of March is of course the trout season, which, at last, gets five green lights in many parts of the country. Apparently, March provides the beginning of spring, both astronomically and meteorologically, though you wouldn't of known it this year. 

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/eden-valley-eclipse.jpg


March can be a miserable month. Only distant memories of the warm, fresh green days of spring can sustain you through day after day of cold wet March weather. Although the occasional hour of sunshine lifted the spirits, I don't think I can remember as long and sustained period of low temperatures, mainly caused by east and north winds.

Why is it that cold easterlies put fish down? The old saying 'Wind in the west, fish bite best, wind in the east, fish bite least' remains pretty accurate. There are exceptions of course. I recall three spring salmon off the Oykel one morning, all caught in easterly snowstorms. Even if cold easterlies are blowing Hawthorns onto a river, fish can be caught. Coarse and sea fisherman experience the same with the latter preferring an onshore breeze, not good if you are an east cost surfcaster. 


One theory is, as we all know, that fish seem to respond better to sustained periods of settled conditions. Steady temperatures, steady or gently rising air pressure, light winds. No extremes. In the UK the prevailing winds and weather come from the south west, this brings the most steady and therefore the best fishing conditions. Perhaps an easterly airflow, is bad for us fisherman as it represents a change from the status quo and fish just don't like that change. So it's not so much the wind direction or temperature drop, just the fact that it is not the norm?


In the middle of the month I was due to take a client to the Tweed for two days. We were due to fish Tillmouth, a wonderful lower beat which needs low water, best at around 1ft 6ins on their gauge. Rain put it up to 3ft. Should we go and hope for no more rain? The decision was made for us, after more wet stuff, the river went up to 8ft! No one fished for those two days but the week after...don't ask. 

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/eden-at-kirkoswald.jpgI then went to fish in Cumbria. This was a long looked forward to first for me. Maybe a salmon but at least some Large Dark Olives and an early season Eden brownie. Sadly the cold east and north east winds dogged us all week. I blamed it on the eclipse.

Regardless, it was a great few days. I was taken by my casting friend Glyn Freeman to some stunning beats on the river. What a beautiful place. On the third day we were joined by another casting instructor, Neil Truelove.  We chatted, laughed (at each other mainly) cast a lot and just had a great time. If you go for a few days, try an excellent pub called The Fox and Pheasant at Armathwaite, overlooking the River Eden. I'm now on a diet.


 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/eden-at-lazonby.jpg


I had a lot of spey casters on the platforms in early March and sent all up to Scotland better equipped not just to cover more water more effectively but thanks to the weather, able to cope with wet cold windy conditions.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/winter-casting-lesson.jpg

Competent spey casters have spent decades perfecting their craft and it is impossible to pass this on in a few hours. However short head lines and a couple of easier to teach casts can get even a novice fishing quite quickly. Whilst on the subject of our favourite silver tourists, the Scottish season has seen a reasonable start for the Tay, Tweed and Dee but sadly my favourite of all, The Spey is having a slow start. On the chalkstreams, the salmon beats on the lower Avon, namely Somerley, The Royalty and Bisterne have all produced fish and I heard a few days ago that the first springers off the Test had been caught, a 22 pounder from Testwood and another of 12lbs from Nursling.




I now really look forward to the opening of the chalkstream trout season in April.

The basic requisite for a good chalkstream season is water. It is the oxygenated, nutrient rich blood that keeps the rivers healthy. Whilst seasonal water levels remain relatively constant, broadly unaffected by rainfall, they can drop of as the season starts and decline throughout the year. As the season continues evaporation exceeds rainfall and the amount of water in the aquifers reduces. This has its effect on weed growth which can then exaggerate the highs and lows. Last winters rainfall across the region was average but it is the groundwater levels that are the all important measure. At the moment, as measured by the EA, they are also average. Therefore, starting with current levels we should see good river levels for at least the first half of the season and with average seasonal rainfall, the whole season.  


Although opening dates vary, as far as I know, all beats are opening on time. So time to clean lines, retie nail knots, loops and connections, lightly oil reels, tidy and restock flyboxes, check waders and nets for holes (you know what I mean), buy new nylon leaders and tippets, buy your new EA licence, to name but a few pre season chores.


I've just downloaded the 'MatchAHatch' app to my iphone. Its fun but limited. It automatically shows you what flies should be on the water this month, in three categories, Upwinged, Sedges and Others. You can also select a future month to see what is expected. The photos of each fly are pretty good and will be useful and fun to show clients what they can expect to see. The fly choices are very limited and I hope future upgrades will add to the list. Good fun.

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chalkstream-heaven.jpg 

                                                                                                      Nearly there!


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!