Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

Midsummer Pause

- By Graham Waterton

At last, it's the June weedcut on the Test and it's tributaries. It signals the end of another frantic mayfly season and a few days to sort out tackle, particularly some very disorganised fly boxes.



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It was a strange mayfly. At best, average but for some it was very poor. It started predictably enough with sparse afternoon hatches on the lower beats at the beginning of the second May week. Normally these would develop in intensity and then spread up to the top of the system by the end of the third week as the water temperature creeps up. This season, the lower beats never seemed to get going and it was a rare day when the fish were feeding with abandon during a strong dun hatch. As the hatch went upstream they improved but sparse hatches were the norm with fish never really getting going. Now, those experienced mayfly aficionados among you will recognise sparse hatches particularly on grey drizzly days as near perfect conditions. Fish haven't got too many naturals to choose from and seem to feed calmly rather than frantically. Those days were more frequent this year but it is always part of the mayfly experience for clients to see the staggering sight of a blizzard of duns and the meadows and bushes alive with dancing spinners, even if they find the fishing frustrating. The sparse hatches did give rise to wonderful spinner falls every few days and as ever these for me are the cream of mayfly fishing. The Avon system which seems to have had a good season will continue for some time and I caught some lovely little wildies on the Wylye yesterday during a nice trickle hatch of mayfly.


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The June weedcut is a tough one for river keepers and this year the difference in approach from beat to beat will be extreme. The upper beats having had low flows following little winter rain had little early growth and will only be trimming and creating 'bars' to hold what water they have. The lower and some middle beats which have better water and flow have an abundance of ranunculus to cut and those with less flow will have bank to bank forests of ribbon weed to scythe or more often to cut by boat.

Some keepers love the weedcut. No fisherman to distract and annoy them and a moment to be creative, to exercise their keepering skills for the betterment of the river and the fishing. It's a long time since I did it but well remember the satisfaction of standing on the bank and watching the silt clear and a neat chequer board of cut ranunculus appear. For some keepers it is nerve wracking and an anxious time. Cut too much and water levels and flow will be reduced for the rest of the season. Silt builds up, water temperature rises, unwanted blanket weed takes over and fisherman complain. Cut too little and soon parts of the river become unfishable ... so fisherman complain. 



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Since the start of the season in mid April I've been on the river, guiding, pretty much every day, When not guiding I've been helping clients with their casting before venturing to some exotic and some less than exotic locations. This year more than most has had an international feel about it. I really do enjoy guiding for foreign clients. Most are excellent fisherman on their local streams and it doesn't take long for their home honed skills to adapt to the demands of the chalkstreams. A common thread among the best is their understanding of the need for delicate presentation and so their love of hand built, long tapered leaders. All immaculately constructed with a variety of soft and stiff, of nylon and fluorocarbon and various formulae of lengths and diameters to give each fly the perfect turnover. Perhaps I've become lazy or perhaps when guiding novices, particularly on larger group days, it is just easier to open another packet of commercially produced leaders particularly when using standard 5wt rods on which you can't go too fine so heavier tippets are a more practical solution. I'm turning the clock back but I've been so impressed, for my own fishing I am going to experiment for the rest of the year with home tied leaders.


I've found another must have bit of kit for my vest ... binoculars; just small inexpensive ones. They're always good to have in the Landrover but I have for about three seasons had these little ones in a pocket. It's not about failing eyesight (although it is a bit) I find when chasing spooky wildies, or stockies for that matter, they enable you to stay back and get a much better feel for what they're taking, both by seeing the fly and also the way it's being taken. It's amazing how often they are not eating the fly that's around and easily visible. I've always been sceptical about a multitude of 'rise forms' but through binoculars you can easily see the difference between a nose or a fin when without it so often just looks like a 'rise'. I recommend them. 


Atlantic salmon fishing is suffering everywhere and Scotland seems to be particularly hard hit. We travel north to fish out of loyalty and a love of Scotland and its beautiful rivers but with little expectation. I haven't noticed less people having lessons before their Scottish trips but there are definitely more who are going abroad with double handed rods having given up on over priced and unproductive Scottish salmon beats. It's a tragedy but I have two trips to the Tweed this summer and I will enjoy every cast, more so this year with a bit of rain about.


I really look forward to the post mayfly season as I've seen some above average olive hatches already. Overcast days, watching, waiting, small flies, long leaders ... can't wait.

November 2017 - Low Water, Clear Water, Cold Water.

- By Graham Waterton


Another trout season ends, by far the busiest of my 5 years as a full time casting instructor and guide. Many suggested that guiding eventually blunts not only ones enjoyment of teaching but also ones own love of flyfishing.




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Not so for me. Perhaps having fished for over 40 years I have a different perspective to my current job than younger guides. I still get huge pleasure from introducing people to flyfishing and I'm as excited as they, when their first fish is caught. 




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As for my own fishing? I have fished the chalkstreams since the late 1970s and learnt from some great fisherman but many hundreds of days teaching, guiding and being with some of the best chalkstream guides and fisherman in the country have refined my skills even further over the last 5 years. It's corny I know but you never stop learning. It's also a great priviledge to guide on some of the best and often private, chalkstream beats in the country. Personally, I now relish the hardest fishing I can find from wild brown trout on the rare stretches of unstocked chalktsreams to the highly technical salmon fishing we found in Iceland this year. More of that later. 

 For another season we've been burdened with low flows as a result of a second winter of low rainfall. I descibe low flows rather than low levels as the latter can to a degree be artificially raised and lowered. The obvious way is by cutting or more pertinently this season, not cutting the instream weed. The low flow rates are relevant as they tend not only to inhibit vigorous weed growth, notably of our most desirable weed, Water Crowfoot, aka Ranunculous, but also to allow other less desirable weeds to establish and flourish. Although the water level can be high, if the flow is low, silt soon settles, unwanted water plants grow and eventually the dreaded blanket weeds dominates the scene by covering the gravel, choking other weeds and reducing fishable space.

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                                                       The weed cutters art - so critical in low flow years


Another isue in low flow years is the use of hatches. These man made sluice gates, originally for flooding and draining the water meadows, have on many stretches been removed to encourage flow in a world of water abstraction. Many remain though and are generally, under the control of landowners or tenants.  Much of the River Test, for example, has multiple channels or braids, again a throwback to the water meadow management of the past, now nearly all made fishable to satisfy increasing demand to fish the chalkstreams. Those in control of the hatches have tricky choices. In low flow years do they tinker with hatches to keep high healthy flow in one or two braids and less in others or just keep enough in all to enable beats to stay open?  I'm sure you can see the problems, exacerbated when upstream owners have control of hatches but a different agenda to their downstream neighbours. Neighbourly relations between owners, managers and river keepers are tested at times like these.



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                                                                     Low flows allow silt and blanket weed to proliferate


The banter about fly life continues. Let's be clear ... there are less invertebrates in our chalkstreams and watemeadows than in the past and of course we would like more which our conservation bodies, fishery managers and river keepers work hard to achieve. Good fishing however, even in times of reduced flylife is as possible now, as ever was. It just requires more application, improved skills and for many, the hardest to achieve, more time on the water, particularly late in the day.


So in a season with low flows, less insect producing weed and reduced fly life fishing can be tough. Right up my street and it's a pleasure to share those skills with others.


This time last year we mourned Bruce Sandison and this year the world of Atlantic salmon conservation lost its greatest champion. Orri Vigfusson pioneered green capitalism into the world of preserving the fish which he loved so passionately. Born into an Icelandic herring fishing family and having acquired business skills which included selling vodka to the Russians he compensated commercial salmon fisherman often providing and encouraging the fishing families alternative non salmon fishing occupations. Successful deals were brokered in The Faroes, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Greenland and England. The organisation he founded, The North Atlantic Salmon Fund flourishes but will miss his energy, passion, fund raising and dealmaking abilities.


All salmon fisherman worth their salt know that the relationship between air and water temperature is important to salmon taking a fly or not. Why that is however, is not fully understood but in Iceland this year I experienced at first hand the subtleties of those temperature differences.

The glacier and snow melt fed Midfjardara was low, crystal clear and cold ... about 4/5 degrees.

In early September we're used to wintry weather but it was unseasonably cold and dry with a chilly wind swinging from the Iceland icecap one minute and from Greenland the next. A few fish were caught in each morning session but it became obvious that as the air temperature crept from 2/3 degrees to 6/7 degrees overtaking the water temperature, by early afternoon the fish turned on dramatically. Even short periods when the wind dropped and the chill disappeared, fish became active. The next challenge was fishing at the right depth. Normally in cold water we need to get the fly down closer to the fish but in clear skinny water we need small flies ... like 16 trebles ... an interesting conundrum and one where the micro tungsten cone head fished upstream was very effective. Single handed rod, long leader and watching the tip of your flyline dip into a chalkstream is exciting so imagine the same on a stunning Icelandic river when it's a 15 pound salmon rather than 2 pound trout taking your dead drifted fly. Thrilling stuff. But just when you think you understand what's going on a salmon rises out of cold water and takes a micro hitch skating across the neck of the pool. As I said, technical and great to occasionally work it out.


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                                                                 An Iceland salmon on an upstream'nymph'.


While I wait for the pike fishing to really get underway, it's grayling in low weedy rivers ... I'm looking forward to working that out all over again.



November 2016 - Seasons Reflections, the Winter to come and Bruce Sandison

- By Graham Waterton

 The seasonal transition of early Autumn is an appropriate time to look forward to the delight and frustration of chasing pike and grayling during short winter days and capricious weather and a moment to reflect on the half year long trout season.

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Autumn on the Itchen


Over these last six months the chalkstreams seemed always to be full. True for the first few months but latterly a false impression created by abundant weed growth and skilful scythe work during the rivers later haircuts. Other than the greeny algal stain that the rivers now regularly endure in May, the cool, alkali, nutrient rich water squeezed from deep layers of chalk flowed with the clarity of the gin distilled on the banks of the River Test at Laverstoke Mills. Even now at the end of rainless October the rivers run unclouded.

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A wild brown trout in gin clear chalkstream water


We must be careful not to be fooled by this apparent visual perfection. The water has many unwanted ingredients that at best reduce and at worst destroy much of the invertebrate life that this fragile system requires for a healthy food chain. The perpetrators are being watched but prosecutions which result in real improvements are frustratingly slow.


 Before the mayfly emerged into cold and blustery mid May days the fish rose hungrily to early olives. These early season days are often overlooked by those who prefer to fish in shirtsleeves. Late April and early May days can provide excellent fly hatches and our targets often rested, hungry and naive.   By the end of this years annual danica feast there had been more days clad in waders and waterproofs than shirtsleeves but many displays of astonishing and insatiable greed, mostly, but not exclusively, by fish.

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Spot the natural


My guiding diary was thankfully very full this year and took me to a wide range of chalkstream beats, a few for the first time but mostly to more regular haunts. Some immaculate in manicured splendour others wildly beautiful in their subtly managed neglect. The proliferation of rewilding projects and the conversion of stocked to wild fisheries continues and is to be applauded.

 For another season I have introduced dozens to the chalkstreams and to flyfishing. Most left having caught their first fish, with lasting memories and hooked well enough that I hope they will be drawn back again next season. I never tire of seeing their amazed faces reflect the wonder of fooling fish in our preferred method of delicate trickery. 


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" I never thought that would work!"


The summer followed a not untypical pattern of strong and varied daytime hatches reducing through July and August into unpredictable evening rises. These late summer days so often characterised by hours of finding and spooking fish and then a period in failing light of very challenging and often rewarding fishing. It's a shame when clients leave the river too early. They seem not to appreciate that they can miss an hour of excruciating frustration.  My two biggest wild fish this season were taken late on separate evenings during a sparse spinner fall which brought previously unseen fish out to feed. A real test of technique and temperament. We won't talk about the fruitless waits for something to happen when either nothing did or my technique or temperament were wanting.

I fish for the magic moments and my selective memory does the rest.


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 For the second half of the season, on most beats anyway, the dry fly restriction is lifted and as a devotee of clearwater nymphing to sighted fish I really enjoy this part of the season and teaching this method. Over the last few months as the levels dropped, we've been fishing in skinny crystal water as often or not flowing over gravels blanketed in weed, to shallow and very spooky fish. Everything needs to be stretched to avoid our patience going the same way. Our traditional nymphing methods need to be refined. With an increasing Gallic influence we're using the thinnest of tippets, very long leaders and long, accurate, delicate casts. Bite detection becomes harder; the fish are so far away it's tricky to see the subtle movements which trigger the hook set. Add a helpful mid leader bite indicator and the French leader transition is virtually complete. Clearwater nymph fishing to seen fish has always been an art form, now French style leaders and long light rods are advancing our skills, particularly in the current low clear water conditions. This is the second year where these tactics were needed in low water at the end of the season.

 These very effective techniques will continue now for grayling until the first rains arrive but when they do we are in for a very dirty river as the golden gravels are rinsed of the all enveloping and choking algae and filamentous weed.


 I was sorry to hear a few days ago that Bruce Sandison had died. In 1983 he wrote " The Trout Lochs of Scotland".  An impressive research project and an invaluable guide for those who enjoy solo wilderness flyfishing, as I do.I still have my copy which is well thumbed and dog eared as it accompanied me on many trips north, stuffed in pocket or rucksack. This book was the main reason I tramped across heather and hill and found a staggering variety of trout lochs, some with "a basket of 6/8 trout totalling 2 pounds can be expected" to lochs which for no apparent reason held very big peat loch trout. This book also introduced me to the crystal clear limestone lochs of Durness which provided, over many years, unsurpassed stillwater fishing for large wild trout. I will be forever in his debt for the many amazing days and nights I enjoyed drifting across Loch Caladail. 


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An essential for the wandering flyfisherman



So, I'm  looking forward to some early river piking with interest. Pike are pretty idle, they seek a place which requires little effort to ambush and then digest their last meal. In high levels and strong flows, as we had last Autumn they find eddies and slacker water often close to the bank. In this water they'll look for depth so finding them could be easier but there is still so much weed. We'll see.  On my first day out I found a nice 10 pounder; a good way to start.


 Salmon fishing this year, has followed a similar pattern wherever the Atlantic Salmon cling on.  Norway, Russia, Iceland and home rivers all showed a similar pattern. The spring fish, where they did appear, were late. The grilse run was thin and although there were some good multi sea winter summer fish, this run ended early with many of the traditional back end rivers not seeing many late running fresh fish. Success with Atlantic Salmon is hard fought but worth every second of effort. They are the most beautiful and wonderful fish.

My few days in Iceland in early September were great but dominated by some abnormally miserable weather. The high spot was two consecutive sessions where the water height and colour were perfect as fish in every pool rose and chased a square cast stripped Sunray. Visual, exciting and very productive. The current exchange rate roller coaster will make my return from next years trip tricky with with only one arm and one leg. 


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                                                                                     What you can't see ... about 4 degrees and blowing a gale!


But for now it's the refinement of the grayling and the primeval elegance of the pike that has my attention. I love my winter fishing. Waters less fished, different challenges, different frustrations. Plenty to enjoy.


March 2016 - Reasons to be Cheerful

- By Graham Waterton

This is a strange time of the year when a day can make such a difference.  Two days of pike guiding in bitter northerly winds with sleet and hail showers followed by a casting lesson at the lake in warm spring sunshine. 

The pike season, for me that's the new year to March 14th, was mixed. A couple of 20 pounders, a few teenagers and few others made it a good season but not quite as good as last year. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chalkstream-twenty-pound-pike.jpgI only pike fish on a few chalkstream beats and don't like them being overfished but there's no doubt this narrow branch of pike flyfishing is becoming more popular which is sadly leading to some beats being overfished.  Rain was a mixed blessing with lots of days lost but it also gave some extra water and colour which often stirred them into activity.  My last day did not end in glory with three raised, one hooked and lost. A few days before however, while the camera on my head, was turned on, for once, I did catch a good fish which is now safely back in the river but I did capture her moment of fame. See the result here.



If your single handed casting experience is limited to a set up suited for chalkstream trout, casting a large fly, often 5 to 10 inches long attached to the appropriate rod and line for chalkstream pike, can be frustrating, ineffective and downright unsafe.  Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/pike-fly.jpg I've often fished with this sort of set up, normally in warmer climes but I've needed to analyse and teach these skills to my pike clients. Although techniques like water hauling, double hauling, extending stroke length by adopting an open stance and drifting the rod back sound technical they are not that difficult to master and really essential for safe and effective casting of a big fly, particularly in the wind.


There's plenty of time for a lot more rain and God forbid, flooding but I hope not. Those entrusted with the care of the rivers that suffered severe flooding this winter are once again concerned with the effects floods have on spawning, eggs and young fish. Lots of interesting work has been done to try and evaluate these effects. The subsequent studies seem to suggest that it is not necessarily all bad news. We shouldn't forget that although these fish are susceptible to mans intervention, evolution has produced creatures which are very able to survive more natural threats such as high river flows.  For instance an extreme flood is not necessarily terminally damaging to redds and eggs. A less extreme flood, particularly of longer duration can actually improve egg hatching rates by cleaning out silt from the redds. Sadly at the egg stage it seems grayling are more vulnerable than other species due to the shallow redds they prefer. Although fry are to a degree more vulnerable, even when fry numbers are reduced the surviving fry flourish as competition for food is less. Therefore the surviving fry and smolts are healthier and stronger and more likely to survive.  Timing, extent and duration of floods are relevant and as spawning times vary from species to species and river to river it becomes very difficult to predict the effects of any one flood. Once again, although winners and losers, that's natures way of spreading the risk.


As ever I've generalised but for the nerds, some more reading here and here.



The salmon season up north has been underway for a while and a few spring fish have already been caught on the chalkstreams. The figures for last season show that most chalkstream fisheries and the Test and Itchen as a whole had record numbers of salmon and sea trout in 2015. The Environment Agency have counters on both rivers which showed the best year for 25 years with 2007 salmon running the Test and 907 running the Itchen. Although both migratory fish are caught on a number of the lower beats, one of the most prolific,Testwood and Nursling, the lowest beat of the Test, had their best year with 397 salmon and 617 sea trout. These numbers are a credit not just to the fortitude of the fish but the improvements all interested parties have made and the catch and release policies most fisheries operate.

If you're used to swinging a fly on a big river then this sort of salmon and sea trout fishing may not be for you but it is fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable and after all right on our doorstep.


So a strange time of the year it is. No fishing to be done but soon the clocks spring forward and the approach of a new season on the chalkstreams is greeted with huge anticipation. Reasons to be happy? Well the groundwater levels are well above average which should give us a season of good river levels. As the winter and early spring have been relatively warm and early fly hatches like the mayfly are dependant on critical water temperatures being reached we could be in for early hatches. Most keepers have had good conditions to complete all their winter work and lastly many beats have converted to wild fisheries. All good news for another great season. Can't wait.


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January 2016 - Winter Fishing and the weather, of course.

- By Graham Waterton


Snowdrops and azaleas out in the garden and the first green blooms of hawthorns in the hedgerows. Its January for goodness sake! 


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A few weeks ago I was gravel cleaning on the Bourne Rivulet and could have kept my feet dry in slippers. As the weed died back the chalkstreams ran down to their lowest for several years. Groundwater levels are also in extreme deficit and although a normal wet winter will redress this annual paranoia, watching the extraordinary rainfall and increasingly frequent floods in the north all weather norms are in doubt. So, with some relief, as I post this blog the rain has arrived in the south and all rivers are running high and coloured. You might like to read this article as it explains a bit about El Niño and suggests we may have a very wet, warm and windy few months. 

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Although the wildlife is remarkably resilient to floods I know many who work on the river will not want a repeat of the 2013/14 floods.




Up to a week or so ago, with low, clear and increasingly weedless water, the grayling fishing was tough and on occasions almost impossible. Lone fish, without the confidence of the shoal, spooked at the slightest concern. Blowing leaves, falling twigs and the longest most delicate casts sometimes sent them bow waving goodbye up stream. As ever when conditions challenge, success is sweet and a dozen made a letter day redder. I had a couple of good days on the Itchen where the greatest cause of spooked grayling were the antics of spawning

trout charging around the gravel shallows. A healthy problem to have.

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I heard from an experienced caretaker of wild trout fisheries the other day that brown trout spawning times differ greatly from river to river. At first hand I saw spawning activity on the Avon in November, the Itchen in December and he was reassuring me that the Bourne trout spawn well into January. Water temperature, which on chalkstreams differ from river to river seems the obvious answer but I must find out why.

Pike are canny. Unlike trout and grayling they don't have to find a constant conveyor of food. Occasional feasts and then time to hide and sulk. In low flows they can hide almost anywhere, which in the lower Test beats gives them plenty of mid river nooks and crannies. 

Now we have rain and hopefully colder temperatures both in and out of the water. When the river fines and the fish shoal the grayling fishing will improve. As for the pike, this heavier water, will demand that they tuck themselves into the banks and more predictable deep slow lies. As April approaches the big females will feed more to get ready for spawning.

So, we are dependant on the weather gods, as ever but there will be some sport as we crawl agonisingly slowly to the start of the trout season.


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A few brave fishery owners and managers are sending a shiver of expectation up and down the chalkstreams. There is a veritable avalanche, or should that be waterfall of 'rewilding' projects taking place over the winter. A number of the famous stretches and beats have undergone significant works to resculpt river banks and beds to provide better habitat for wild fish. One estate on the upper Test has gone completely wild, as has a beat on the Wylye that I am involved with, to name but two. This means creating an entirely sustainable wild fishery with no stocking and of course, catch and release. It's a brave and applaudable move for an estate which runs a commercial fishery. Whilst some regular rods may have left, they will attract new members who value and enjoy wild trout chalkstream fishing. We are all watching with interest but I'm not the only one who hopes this trend will drift downstream to more and more fisheries. I gather plenty of riparian owners are inviting consultants including those from the Environment Agency and more significantly The Wild Trout Trust to advise on work that can be done in the years leading up to fully 'going wild'.  Watch this space.


I caught quite enough salmon in Iceland in September and had high hopes that this season of plenty would give some clients the same opportunity in Scotland but sadly not. Low water persisted well into mid October and then of course, we had too much. I haven't seen the end of season figures for the Tweed but I suspect it will show a very patchy season, better than last year but overall, worse than average. There's always another season and the 15th January is only a week or so away.