Start River Fishing

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I am a member of the Ellem Fishing Club which is the Oldest Fishing Club in the World.

Our Club was founded in 1828 and we have an Annual River Fishing Day.

In recent years Stillwater Outings have come to dominate the Club with 6 of them and still only the one River Day.

Recently I was asked by the Chairman if I could provide some information to encourage more Members to have a go at fishing on the River Whiteadder which is a tributary of the River Tweed.

Basic River Whiteadder Fly Fishing

If there is too much information here of course you are free to ignore it but it is there for those who may be able to use it. Additionally the content is only my opinion.

So getting started on River Fishing is easy! Just buy a Permit and give it a shot. 🙂

In fact on the Tidal Waters of the Tweed and Whiteadder you don’t even need a Permit!

However as in any other walk of life if you wish to become competent and successful then it comes down to time, effort and usually money.

Just like doing your garden, a project, academic studies or almost any other thing in life, what you achieve will be directly proportional to the resources you put into it. Fly Fishing on Rivers and indeed Stillwaters is no different.

However to start here is some information which may help you in making better equipment choices which should help get you on the right path. The right tools for the job in hand makes learning so much easier.


These are a bit like Screwdrivers.

A full set will enable you to choose the right one for the particular job you are faced with.

You can sometimes use a Flathead on a Phillips but it is never ideal.

With rods you can make more of a compromise and only chose one for River Fishing although it will not be perfect for every situation. Obviously a 15 foot Salmon Rod is not ideal on the little Dye Water! 🙂

You could use your Stillwater Rod on the Whiteadder but it is unlikely to be ideal.

There are a now a number of rods on the market with built in extension pieces which do make them more versatile however if I was to single out just one rod for the River Whiteadder it would be a 9 feet 4 weight.

This would be delicate enough for fine terminal tackle, suitable for the environment you will be fishing, balanced to the average size of fish you will catch and light enough to use all day.

An example is here;

This is a more versatile rod.

Fly Lines

This will need to be balanced to the rod you are using and for a 4 weight rod I would recommend a Double Taper Floating 4 Weight Line in a subdued colour. An Olive Line is probably best but if the eyes are no longer as good as they were the Greys Platinum in a light grey colour is both visible and hopefully non scary.

So with a light weight rod and line you should be able to achieve a delicate presentation and perhaps it is pertinent at this stage to remember that the Whiteadder is no longer stocked and the trout are indeed all wild.


These should be as light as possible and a basic check drag is all you need. Disc drags only add weight in this situation. A nice reel is a joy to own and fish with but Reels are relatively unimportant in River Trout Fishing.

Leader Cast Tippet.

Call it what you will but make sure you use the good stuff. This is getting to the business end and skimping here is a false economy. I use Co-Polymer in 5X and 6X. This is strong and fine.

If your casting is not the best a tapered leader can help. I would recommend “welding” it in to the end of your fly line in order to make a smooth joint which will not catch in the rod rings and will aid presentation.

You can find out how to do this on You Tube. Although it is not essential as Tesco would say every little helps. Add a micro ring on the thin end of the taper and you can then add and renew your tippet without eating into the taper.


Modern Breathable Waders are a definite advantage. Comfortable, light weight and non sweaty.

I would recommend Chest Waders in the stocking foot variety. You might not wish to wade deep but chest waders allow you to sit down on the bank and keep your backside dry. 🙂

Wading Boots.

By using Stocking Foot Breathable Waders and separate Boots it is like going fishing in a pair of Hiking Boots and a pair of Waterproof Trousers. Comfortable and with great ankle support.

The boots I recommend are felt soled with studs. These are definitely the best in the river. Whilst not quite so good on the bank as Rubber I would prefer the odd slip there than a tumble in the River.


These are very useful. If you get the ones which are combined Knee and Shin Pads they are the best.

When the river is low and clear being stealthy is a requirement and kneeling down on rocks and gravel is no fun without them. If your kneeling days are behind you which mine almost are they do have other advantages. They protect your waders especially Breathable ones which are quite delicate and they do soften the blow if you bump into any unseen rock or barbed wire.

Fishing abroad as I do, and perhaps even in this country they provide additional protection against snakes! 🙂

Wading Staff

This is an essential bit of safety equipment and I just about need one to cross the road these days!

I also believe they help me catch more fish. After all if I fall in and go home soaking wet that is my day over. In coloured water I can still safely wade to my usual spots.

A Wading Staff has enabled me to keep River Fishing for many years after my natural balance started to deteriorate. A telescopic locking walking pole with a lanyard is one alternative but a stout stick could suffice.

If you do use a telescopic one tape it up as an additional safety guard against it collapsing on you.


These are many and varied. Their main function for me is to carry everything I need for a day on the river. Boxes and Bags are cumbersome and reduce your mobility. If you like your flask and sandwiches perhaps one of these might be in order.

However safety has to be your number one priority and something like this can be used in the river and on the Lochs.


A good net suitable for catch and release is highly recommended. Even though we are keeping our 4 fish limit you will need to release Undersize Fish and Grayling. You are also encouraged to catch and release when fishing outside of competitions.

I use these and think these are the best.


This should be appropriate to conditions and I would highly recommend subdued colours.

Fluorescent Yellow Jackets are a definite no no! 🙂

Hats and Spectacles.

These are essential safety items. A hat will shade your eyes and protect you from the sun and wind.

Spectacles whether they are Prescription, Sunglasses or Clear Safety Specs should be worn at all times to protect your eyes. This is true when fishing solo in the River and may be doubly important when in a boat with a fellow angler nearby!   Polaroid’s do help you see the fish!

The Fishing.

The basic method is Wet Fly Fishing.

If you are new to fishing and your casting is relatively modest you may wish to just use a single fly.

Among Flies to consider are;

Pheasant Tail Nymphs

Endrick Spiders

Hares Ears

I would have these with a small metal bead as this helps turnover and gets the fly and leader down below the surface more quickly. Size 12 is the maximum on the Whiteadder and sizes 14 and 16 are also useful.

If you are confident to fish 2 or 3 flies then these are some you should consider.

Greenwell Glory and Greenwell Spider

March Brown and March Brown Spider

Sooty Olive   Invicta   Partridge and Orange   Snipe and Purple   Waterhen Bloa   Olive PTN

If you go to 3 Flies put the Beadhead Fly on the point, a Winged Wet such as the Greenwell Glory in the middle and a Spider on the top dropper.

This will aid casting and presentation but also fish the flies appropriately in the water column.

Barbless Flies are recommended these days and good ranges are now commercially available.

These are good suppliers.

You can de-barb flies with Pliers and a File but I would recommend you give them a little touch of varnish after you do this to stop them rusting.

Fly Tying.

This is a great way to be able get your Flies in just the right Size and Weight on just the right Hook.

However do not think for one minute that it will save you money.

Like a lot of us you could end up taking over a room in the house and have enough materials and hooks to last for three lifetimes! 🙂


I use a six or seven turn Blood Knot for tying on the flies and a 2 turn Water Knot (Surgeons) for making the droppers. Knot videos are here.

A cast (leader) for the river should be between 7 and 15 feet long but make sure you are presenting the flies properly. It is no use having a 15 feet leader if the flies land in a heap.

Downstream Wet Fly Fishing

This is the basic and most popular way of fishing.

Approach the River quietly and possibly crouching down and/or using Bankside Cover of trees, bushes or rocks. Do not go right up to the edge but start a rods length back up the bank.

Do not blunder into the River waist deep before you start fishing!

Trout are often in the edges!

The basic method is to cast at approximately 45 degrees to the flow and allow the current to swing the flies to straight downstream of you.

Follow the fly line round with you rod tip as the current moves the flies and when on the dangle leave them for a few seconds before casting again.

After the second or third cast move downstream a few paces and repeat.

So there you are you are now River Fishing!

Congratulations and welcome to the ranks maintaining the Clubs Oldest Tradition.

Once you have mastered this basic technique you can start to add in wrinkles such as mending the line upstream to slow the flies down in fast water and the opposite in slow water.

You can add Nods and Circles to the rod tip to add action to the flies. Retrieving line is sometimes a useful addition.

Learning to Tuck Cast so your flies hit the water before your fly line focuses the Trout’s attention where you want it.

This video may be of use.

The Whiteadder.

None of us are getting any younger but there are parts of the River where access is much easier.

If you have a wading staff and move slowly and carefully you can fish parts of the river that are no more difficult than fishing the bank at Chatton or the Watch Reservoir.

Clarabad is one such place where you can park close by and you have a closely cropped small grass field to walk across to the River. In 2008 while on crutches with my ankle in plaster I caught three nice Trout there in a Spittal Club Competition.

Cawderstanes is another area where there is nearby parking and cut paths along the river as well as a good footbridge across it.

Above Allanton Bridge there is some reasonable walking and a fair bit of river you can fish even without waders. Again with cut paths.

At Blue Stone Ford you could fish out of your car window!! 🙂


These need practice and the Berwick and Spittal Clubs hold 5 River Competitions per year between them. They are always looking for new members. Please get in touch if you would like more details.

Best Regards

Robbie Bell.

At all times your Personal Safety must be your First Priority and your First Responsibility.

If in any doubt you should seek expert advice elsewhere.

Information given here is only my personal opinion.