Much has changed in game-fishing since Trout & Salmon was first published in 1955 – technology, regulations and the natural world - yet the way we approach our sport need not have altered at all. The advice given by leading fishers of yesteryear is often as valid today as it was then. This article by Robin Elles was first published in March 1980:


I like to share a rod when the occasion arises. Indeed, on some river beats, sharing can be preferable to fishing alone. Not only does it offer certain practical advantages, but it enables both partners to appreciate the attractions of the river in a way that neither could do if concentrating entirely on fishing. It is, in fact, far from being the sort of second-best expedient it is sometimes thought to be. It can enhance both enjoyment and chances of success.

I fished for many years before I realised this. Then my wife and I started sharing a rod, partly to enable our family to fish another rod, partly because she no longer found it easy to manage a full day's fishing. Having tried it, we continued to do it from choice. She fished her favourite pools; I fished the rest; and whoever was not fishing either watched the other or went off to see one of our party on another beat.

I once returned from one of these forays to find my wife with a 20 lb fish on the bank, which she had just landed with an arthritic hand from a difficult place, having surmounted a not inconsiderable fence in order to do so. I kept nearer at hand after that - but although I begged her to do it again for my benefit, she never did.

We soon found that two people fishing alternately can not only help one another to catch fish, but each can learn a lot from watching the other. Sitting high-up on a bank overlooking a pool, an observer can spot fish that the fisher cannot see and suggest tactics accordingly. He can also often see quite clearly how the fly moves in response to the set of the current and in relation to the fish; and how the latter react to it.

And they do react, far more frequently than the fisher himself can detect. A sudden awareness may show itself by an increased liveliness in the motion of fins and tail - and perhaps a slight upward drift or, more positively, a half-roll displaying the flash of a silvery side. If the next cast brings the fly a good bit nearer, as it should, the fish is quite likely to make a definite surge towards it; but the fisher will probably not notice this unless it breaks the surface.

What happens next depends on whether the fish is really in the mood to take, and whether the fisher does whatever may be needed to induce it to do so.

But without the observer on the bank, most of the activity would have passed unnoticed by the fisher; and a good opportunity might have been missed.

Many an otherwise blank day has been made memorable for me because there were two of us.

I remember particularly one sunny afternoon about 15 years ago. The river was running clear and the fish lying in the pool could be seen, even more distinctly than usual, from where my wife was sitting on the high shady bank. I was fishing, and could see only the sparkling ripples of the surface.

"There's a fish! — a yard or two beyond your fly on that last cast. It came up about half-way and sank back again."

I had of course seen nothing; but l cast again, a bit longer.

"It’s coming — no, it's gone back again.”

Another cast.

"Here it comes again — there !"

As my wife spoke, there was a boil at the fly, but the fish made no attempt to take it, merely turning under it.

That was all I saw of that fish, though I tried it again with a different size of fly. But as I moved on down the pool, the performance was repeated, with variations, by three or four others. Only one of them seemed to want to take my fly, and that was the only one I saw. Nevertheless it was all highly entertaining for both of us — though we finished the day fishless.

Of course, you do not have to be sharing a rod to enjoy this kind of joint fishing. All that is necessary is for the

fisher to be accompanied by a knowledgeable observer. In the past, professional gillies often filled this role: sometimes they still do. But on most rivers where gillies are employed nowadays, they have such wide and varied responsibilities that it is increasingly rare for them to be able to accompany any one client for more than a short time. A non-fishing friend does not always have the necessary expertise. So sharing a rod is often the best and happiest arrangement.

It is also a good way of introducing someone to a river as it is an agreeable compromise between accompanying him (or her) without fishing yourself, and the other extreme of just pointing out the limits of the beat and leaving him to it.

The former may lead even a friend to feel that he is putting you to undue trouble (although in my case he is not, as l thoroughly enjoy showing a newcomer a favourable stretch of water) while the latter is perhaps more conducive to frustration than to successful fishing! But by sharing a rod with a friend who does not know the river, you can have all the pleasure of discussing the features and possibilities of every pool in as much detail as you both wish. If you take your turn at wielding a rod from time to time (without overdoing it, of course) he need have no qualms about keeping you from your fishing. And should he get a fish, your own satisfaction will hardly be less than his.

Archive Robin Elles March 1980 p58 INSET
Ready for tailing… Some anglers much prefer to land a fish unaided.

One thing that both fisher and companion — whether sharing a rod or not — should always be quite clear about, is what the latter is to do when a fish is hooked. Disaster may occur, and even friendship be strained, through some misunderstanding about this vital point.

Personally, I like to land my own fish unless circumstances make it too difficult, or my companion has a big net and knows how to use it; but many experienced fishermen prefer to have some assistance.

A safe rule, if you do not know each other well, is to leave it to whoever is holding the rod to ask for help if he or she wants it; and meanwhile for everyone else present to keep well back and, above all, out of the range of vision of the fish. I do not attempt to land fish uninvited for anyone except those of my family and friends who I know will welcome my help.

The landing of fish, however, occupies but a small part of most fishing days - even the red-letter ones! - and by no means all pools are suitably furnished with vantage points from which to observe what is going on under the surface. The non-fisher therefore has plenty of time in which to enjoy all of the other interests and attractions that every river has to offer. This is something that the actual fisher, intent on his fishing, can do only at the cost of part of his attention.

Fishing, after all, is the supreme sport for those who love the wild. Even in these overcrowded times, rivers and lochs can take us out of sight or sound of roads and their traffic (though not, alas, of jet aircraft screaming over our heads) and they provide a setting in which wildlife still abounds. Birds and beasts, trees, wild flowers, and a profusion of lesser plants, flourish in the moisture and seclusion of their banks. And because fishermen, by the nature of their art, move quietly and spend much of their time in stillness, they have better opportunities than most to see and hear it all.

It is hardly surprising that so many fishers are also keen naturalists. You can, at times, become so absorbed in what is going on around one that even the movement of a fish is heard or seen almost subconsciously.

Salmon-fishers and trout-fishers alike agree that the blank days which so often afflict us do not diminish the zest with which we approach each new day's fishing, nor the pleasure we derive from it. A good deal of that pleasure is to be found in the inactive moments of the day. In this, as in so much else, the salmon fisher can with advantage take a leaf out of the book of the dry-fly trout fisherman.

For it is not necessary to ply the rod unceasingly from dawn to dusk in order to catch fish; watching the river can be both instructive and profitable; and the life of the riverbanks offers us a fascinating background of interest.