Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

October 2015 - The Trout Season and Salmon Ramblings.

- By Graham Waterton


As we reach the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness it seems an appropriate time to look back on a wonderful trout season which has been a very busy one for me.


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I returned from the U.S. in mid May and straight into wall to wall mayfly guiding for nearly six weeks. The weather produced a long mayfly this year with

plenty of clients experiencing this extraordinary event for the first time.There were some particularly prolific spinner falls providing some frantic fishing as the light fell.


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The post mayfly doldrums were not too long and within a week or so fish were back on their normal summer diet of small olives, sedges and the various terrestrials. The doldrums was short lived this year because the fish were not able to gorge on mayfly for extended periods. The cold weather shortened each day's activity and extended the season resulting in fish not as satiated as usual.

As the summer progressed water levels dropped only being supported by weed being trimmed rather than being cut and in some cases not cut at all. By September we had beats looking very weedy which were tricky to fish but better than low levels and no weed. To fill the aquifers and reduce the groundwater deficit we will need plenty of rain over the winter.


I think it was the calm and well balanced reporting of the Daily Express that predicted 'an invasion of Daddy Long Legs' presumably forgetting that it happens pretty much every year and results in some great fishing in the last few weeks of the season. This year was no exception.



I guided for many good and experienced fisherman this year but some of my best memories of a very busy summer were the smiling faces of novices having their first chalkstream experience and most of the time, catching fish.



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     I had lots of family days in August and the Test valley echoed to whoops of delight as the young, and old, earnt some bragging rights.


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I also took a number of more experienced rods to the Bourne Rivulet to experience its unique challenges. A few were rewarded with some cracking fish up to 20" which is around 3lbs. An exceptional wild chalkstream brownie.


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It's been a good season for salmon and sea trout on the chalkstreams. Both the principal beats on the Test, namely Testwood and Nursling and on the Itchen, the Lower Itchen Fishery had excellent years for both salmon and sea trout. I had a great evening at Testwood in August getting attached to plenty of sea trout up to 5lbs.  It was really enjoyable and if you haven't given it a whirl I can thoroughly recommend it. For those living in London and the South, excellent sea trout fishing on our doorsteps.


Generally the Atlantic salmon season has been significantly better than last year with most rivers experiencing an increase of spring fish and particularly grilse which were almost completely absent last year. Sadly a few catchments are still having a ghastly time, the Dee, for example, once again very short of fish.


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My annual pilgrimage to the Midfjardara in Iceland reflected this increased improvement with 10 rods catching nearly 200 salmon in 3 days. This had been the story for much of the season; not surprisingly the river has had a record year with just over 6000 salmon. An astonishing figure compared to last years 1700 and the previous best year in 2010 of 4043. The vast majority of these were grilse but who's complaining. By my calculations that's well over 40 fish per rod per week which made the Midfjardara the best of the naturally spawning rivers in Iceland this season. I'm booked for next year already! Even within Iceland there was feast and famine. It seemed that the North Eastern rivers had a bad time and the west and south rivers had some record numbers. All about water temperature, I gather, too cold in the north and perfect for the west. One day someone will completely understand why one river has the worst and another the best season ever. The enigma of the Atlantic salmon.


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Fishing late season in Iceland, we normally miss the summer treat of fishing a small hitched fly for fresh fish but not this year. Fresh fish were entering the system right up to the end of the season and we caught fish hitching, on tiny flies, on small cone heads fished upstream, traditionally swung flies and even bombers. It really is heaven for those prepared to experiment and take advice from their excellent team of guides. 


I have Tweed trips with clients in October and November to come and will report on the Scottish back end season next time. Interesting that the Scottish government have just diluted down their earlier proposals to restrict the numbers of salmon killed in our rivers. Now a 'targeted system based on fish stocks' is proposed. I have mixed feelings about this. It seems to me obvious that if fish stocks are so low we should move to no salmon being killed, rod or net, on all catchments, until stocks recover. I know that the implications of that could be difficult but if we don't, we risk stocks reducing to a level that recovery would be nigh on impossible. No pain, no gain.


A looming issue, particularly in the Southern counties with chalkstream fisheries, is the proliferation of otters. It's a complicated issue which I explore in another article here and which will also be published in the next Piscatorial Society Journal.




May/June 2015 - The Catskills

- By Graham Waterton

May started cold and before I knew it, the frantic mayfly season was underway and before breath could be drawn June was drawing to an end. The early season was notable for all sorts of reasons but the high point was our trip to the U.S.


My wife and I planned to be there for 10 days, part holiday, part attending my sons graduation and three days fishing in The Catskills. I'd never fished for trout in the US and the aim was twofold. Firstly to do some driftboating and secondly to catch some wild brook trout in the upper reaches of the many freestone rivers of The Catskill Mountains. Those of you who have fished abroad will know that extreme weather can strike anywhere and we arrived during a heat wave which persisted pretty much for our whole trip. This very warm unseasonal weather left no snow and having had no rain for nearly a month, the rivers were the lowest for years. Not enough for drifting and the skinniest mountain streams with extra spooky brookies. So both of my original aims were unfulfilled but nonetheless I had some great fishing.


All overseas trips are special but not necessarily for the fish. This was again, a series of days waving a magic wand and trying to fool fish, trout on this occasion, into feeding on my furry and feathery offerings.


What makes these trips special is the places and their surroundings and their contrast to home waters, the different wildlife, the different local methods and the people you bump into. All fish, particularly on first meeting, are breathtaking visions but for me but a fish remains in the memory as much for its context than for its size or intrinsic beauty.  And so it was in the Catskills.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/catskill.view.jpg


The Catskill Mountains are broadly defined by the 700,000 acre Catskill Park, a protected area in the South East of New York state about a 2 or 3 hour drive from New York City. The mountains rise to about 4000ft and are, in the main tree covered, part conifer, part deciduous, reminiscent of The Chilterns but like everything else over there, on a much larger scale. There are hundreds of rivers which tumble out of the mountains. A few are dammed and provide head and tail water fisheries but most rush through stunning wooded valleys and  eventually  join the giants of the Hudson and the Delaware which spew out of the east coast. It is stunning countryside on a grand scale.

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The bird life at first seemed familiar with lots of LBJs but a more careful look and a local bird book, identified Grackles, American Robins (bigger than ours) Red Winged Blackbirds (bigger and flashier than ours) Barn Swallows (bluer than ours) and Blue Jays (bluer but smaller than ours). The Ruby Throated Hummingbirds enthralled us each evening as we all drank the local nectar. I saw a number of Bald Eagles soaring over the rivers and a single nervous female wild Turkey (it was Turkey hunting season).


Their Brown Bears are few and far between but beavers and their well gnashed trees were evident almost everywhere.

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We based ourselves near Roscoe (recently granted the descriptor 'TroutTown USA') and fished The Beaverkill, The Willowemoc and the East and West branch of the upper Delaware. Roscoe is a small town but has 5 tackle shops, 2 large outfitters and round every corner is a pick up towing a drift boat.



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With sunny and hot weather the norm, my excellent guide, Phil Eggleton, suggested 06.00 starts. Once we had a break in the middle of the day but otherwise fished through, often until 8.00pm.

Although I had not given Phil instructions on how I wanted to fish he was keen to show me the dry fly and nymph fishing the area was well known for and I was clearly happy with that. Streamers from the driftboat would have to wait for another trip.  

The Catskills place in American fly fishing history is central. Often referred to as the cradle of American dry fly fishing it was made famous by Theodore Gordon who corresponded at length with Halford (and Skues), adapted his dry flies and developed the Catskill style for dressing dry flies, the most famous of which is the Quill Gordon. In the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum Hall of Fame (no, I'm not joking and it's well worth a visit) Halford's  plaque describes 'The Father of Dry Fly Fishing' and Gordon's as 'The Father of American Dry Fly Fishing'. The two most famous American fly tying families, the Darbees and the Dettes lived and worked in the area and the Dette family still produce wonderful flies, sold through their shop in Roscoe. Lee and Joan Wulff  opened their fly fishing school in the Beaverkill Valley. Joan still teaches there.

The whole place oozes Amercan fly fishing history.  

Phil was keen I fished Gordon's favourite pool and having caught a fish was photographed with the iconic covered bridge behind me. His knowledge of the area and its history was a large part of the pleasure of fishing the area.


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The fly hatches were often very localised. If there was nothing hatching or rising we moved on, often without wetting a fly. When we did find fly hatching, more often than not, it was on a amazing scale. I missed the Quill Gordon's but saw the end of the Hendricksons and plenty of other olives, several species of sedge, including one very similar to our Grannom. Olives hatched and fell at varying times of the day and on one occasion olive duns and spents and 2 or 3 sedge species all on the water in staggering numbers at the same time for a frantic session lasting only an hour.


Lots of fish and many memories but one particularly notable hour long session saw us scanning a stretch of the Beaverkill just outside Roscoe. Nothing was moving and I sensed we were about to jump into Phil's huge pick up and move on but then we both spotted a single tiny sipping rise downstream of us under the far bank . As we approached, there appeared to be a few fish rising in a small rocky bay, overhung with beech branches. No olives were hatching at that time but two or three spinners were egg laying and we plumped for a dark brown Hendrickson spinner.

We skirted round, waded very gingerly ready for a long delicate cast. Any closer in this crystal skinny water would put them down. The first fish was sipping fly in a seam created from a rock at the top of the bay. The first few casts only inches out rose nothing. Then another long delicate cast right on the money and he sucked it down. We hooked three fish out of that bay, each one needing a cast, literally, within an inch. All beautiful wild brownies the largest around 18". Very, very satisfying.

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Having returned from the U.S., I started 4 weeks of almost continuous mayfly guiding on the chalkstreams. This year the big floppy ephemerid arrived on time and kept going across all rivers well into June. There were a few tough days with some wet or windy weather but overall a really good mayfly season. For once the cool north or east winds helped, as they suppressed and often extended the hatch over the day and I suspect lengthened the mayfly season as a result.

I do love the mayfly. It's an extraordinary natural phenomenon but it's now so good to get back to small flies as fish regain their appetite.


I'm hearing some good news from many of the salmon rivers here and abroad. Will 2015 restore our faith?

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. 

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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.


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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. 



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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.

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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. 

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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.


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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.

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                                                                                                      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"

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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.

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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.

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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.