Game Angling

Game Angling Scotland


Valsesiana Italian Style

February 7th, 2017
Andrea in action

Andrea in action on the Mastelone

I wrote this last summer and for some reason resisted publishing it on my web site, having re read it I decided that it merited an appearance.

I had a recent trip to fish the Sesia River and one of its tributaries the Mastelone in the North West of Italy close to the Swiss border and adjacent to Monte Rosa which is the second highest mountain in the Alps.  This is my second trip to the area as we went last year also at this time.  How conditions can alter in a year last year was warm with bags of sunshine whereas this year it was wet and grey.  The river heights also varied at this time and this year they were clear but up maybe 6 inches on last year.

Perhaps the most interesting experience was fishing the Sermenza a mountain torrent which contained brown trout and rainbows apparently up to a couple of kilos in weight, yes correct a couple of kilos.  It was the ultimate pocket water and very difficult to fish with my 9 foot 5 weight as it was difficult to  hold a fly before drag set in.  So I opted to fish with a Tenkara outfit as I had done in the autumn of 2015 when I fished the Sarca’s tributaries similar mountain torrents in the North East of Italy in the Dolomites.




Valsesiana is not unlike the Tenkara style of fishing and is fished with a stiff rod of approximately 4 metres in length. These days for ease of transport a telescopic carbon fibre pole is used originally it was manufactured from a reed cut in the Po valley.  The line is handmade, spun from stallion’s tail fibres, tapered and finished off with a tippet of usually 3 spider style flies or less. The rod is much stiffer than Tenkera and much more able to hold a fish in these mountain torrents.

There is a museum dedicated to Valsesiana style in the town of Varallo I have been there twice now and had hosted visits in the company of Andrea Scalvini a leading light for the Valsesiana style and manufacturer of rods and horse hair leaders. If you get the opportunity I would encourage you to go.

Valsesesia Museum

Valsesia Museum

So how far did I get with my Tenkara rod I have to confess not far, my very first cast proved how impossible it was to us in these streams with the size of fish.  I had on a comparadun and as soon as it hit the water up came a good brown, probably at least a couple of pounds.  The next few seconds proved how this rod was only up to coping with smaller fish.  The trout took off into the current and there was absolutely nothing that I could do to hold it and certainly not move it.  It came unstuck when it went down behind some rocks mid-stream.

Sadly all of this was being observed by a couple of Italians my friend Pino Messino and the guru himself Andrea.  Rather than fish on with the Tenkara I took Andrea’s advice and switched to one of his Valsesiana rods for the rest of the afternoon.

I do not believe that you can fish  dry fly as we know it  Valsesiana style using the horse hair line.  The line is heavier than a furled leader especially as it is knotted every foot or so.  It therefore sags and a belly is formed, the belly is inclined to cause the dry fly to drag.  With Tenkara a fluorocarbon leader would not be so inclined to do this.  It is however perfect for spider fishing.

Arturo making a horse hair line

Arturo making a horse hair line

These spiders are very similar to North Country spiders and the ones that I was offered were similar to a partridge and orange, and others with a purple body, I hesitate to say snipe and purple as the hackles were not snipe.  They are fished upstream and across and the plan is to fish the “bob” and keep the top fly just on the surface in this way the other two flies are kept just below and represent emergers and nymphs.

Did it work? Without a doubt, yes it did and I spent the rest of the afternoon in the pouring rain catching fish from difficult to fish pocket water. Would the style have an application in the UK?  Where I fish it would, in the larger Scottish rivers where we are likely to catch bigger fish and here I am thinking about the Clyde, Tay, Tummel and Tweed.

Finally when using the very traditional style of reed pole, and horsehair leader Andrea rightly pointed out they manufacture all their own requirements and a horse hair line can last up to 30 years if damaged they simply replace the damaged section. There is also a simplicity to the style and the tackle was very minimalist just pole, line and wallet of flies and materials.

Does salmon fishing have a future?

April 8th, 2015

I have a grandson and am beginning to wonder if he will ever be able to fish for salmon in the way that I have and in the way the generation before me did.  I can recall having conversations with Reg Rihgyni famed for the book he wrote about Grayling fishing and also “Salmon Taking Times”.  His generation seemed to have no issues with catching salmon they were in our rivers in abundance.  They lived in an era when most fish taken were killed.  I recall photos of a mornings catch lined up on a slab numbering dead fish in their dozens.  This I guess was back in the 1960’s and probably we could look in catch return books where  fish numbered hundreds for a season.

I was never able to experience this level of success, I started fishing for salmon regularly back in the eighties.  We had good days, a good day for us was maybe three fish, and yes sadly we behaved badly and failed to return them. Gradually the seasons appear to have become worse with fewer fish each year.  I fish regularly on a prime middle beat of the River Tay where I take a couple of weeks spread across the season.  I also always fish the fly no matter what the conditions and certainly never fish from the boat.  I would probably increase my returns for the beat if I were to spin or harl but put simply part of the attraction of the day for me is casting a fly.

My records for the two weeks indicate an average of six to eight fish each year, the twenty first century however has seen a decline and the last few years have seen this drop to three fish each year that includes two fish for one day.  Without a doubt there are less fish running our rivers  for a multitude of reasons.  Environmental issues not just in our rivers but also at sea, there are a whole host of issues why our salmon are declining.  These have been documented regularly by authors and every time you pick up an angling magazine there are articles about fish farming for salmon and how this exploits our wild fish.

Why do I salmon fish you may ask?  Well for me its probably about the process, I enjoy the environment.  The Tay is truly a majestic river in all its seasons.  Fish will run the river every month of the year there is little to stop their progress upstream.  I like the casting itself, casting in hope that I might get a tug, they say that the “tug is the drug” for me it definitely is.  For me there is pleasure to be had from wading down a river, casting to the best of my ability, if I catch a fish whilst doing so then I consider it a bonus.

BBC Scotland have today carried a feature on the national news program highlighting the plight of our Atlantic salmon.






Italians Fly Fishing Masters Workshop

June 13th, 2014

I was a guest of FFM in Italy last year see my previous report.  I found the technique interesting and there were definitely aspects of the style that we can utilise and apply to our fishing in the UK.  I am pleased to report that they will be running a one day workshop on the Annan at Hoddom Castle on the 13th July, here are the details.

This is a great opportunity to anyone who is remotely interested or even critical of the style to come and experience it first hand.

I have had to cut and paste the details as I am struggling with the media link, may fix it given time:


Massimo Magliocco and Fly Fishing Masters UK welcome you to the introduction Italian Style of Casting.

We are a non-profit organisation. A charge is necessary to cover our costs. For the day course the fee is £30 per participant (this includes fishing the river Annan in the evening – Hoddom Castle beat)

Information and booking:

This agenda is designed to be informative and interactive. We encourage you to ask questions to of our instructors. We hope you enjoy our company and the days events.


Hosts and Controllers – Massimo Magliocco and Philip Bailey

9.00 – 10.00 Demonstration and discussion on technique This will be undertaken on both grass and water by Massimo Magliocco and compared by Philip BaileyThe technique will be explained and a range of different casts will be demonstrated.
10.00 – 12.00 Tuition of u how to make the basic Angular cast used by FFM The FFM Instructors will work with individual participants to explain the technique and how to make the cast. This is the basic technique used in all FFM casts. This will be undertaken on grass.
12.00 – 1.00 Lunch
1.00 – 3.00 Demonstration and discussion of all casts used by FFM in ‘fishing’ situations. This will be undertaken by Senior Casting Instructors.Each cast will be demonstrated in ‘live’ fishing situations and benefits explained to participants. This will be undertaken on running water.
3.00 – 5.00 Tuition on different casts The FFM Instructors will work with individual participants to explain each of the ‘Backhand’, ‘Totally Under Tip’, ‘Slowed Down Angular’ and ‘Overturned’ casts. This will also be undertaken on running water.

The Italian Connection

February 18th, 2014

The  Game Anglers Instructors Association have over the last few years had visits from SIM (Scoula Italiana de Pesca a Mosca) at two of their events in Llangollen and discussions with FFM (Fly Fishing Masters) at the last few British Fly Fairs.  Their presentations have always been of interest and enjoyable.

The Italian style is credited for its development to Roberto Pragliola born in 1937 in Florence.  Roberto went on to found SIM with Osvaldo Galizia its current President.  There are a number of schools of fly casting in Italy I have mentioned two and a third would be TLT Academy of which currently Roberto Pragliola is their technical director.  Whilst there are other schools in Italy, these three can be traced back to Pragliola and SIM which celebrated its 25th Anniversary recently.

Italian schools tend to be very different to GAIA.  We certify instructors so that they are able to hold a certification enabling them to go and coach for a fee or not as the case maybe.  Italian organisations are run on a similar basis to angling clubs. They can best be described as a group of passionate like minded anglers who firstly enjoy each other’s company and have a passion for fly casting

What is the Italian style of fly casting? It was designed primarily to fish the small tight mountain streams of the Apennines best described as overgrown and pocket water.  They needed to buy time for the fly before the current swept it away and need to cope with casting under bushes and in confined spaces, hence the short rods and long leaders. The style is restricted to dry fly fishing.

River Tronto, Ascoli

River Tronto, Ascoli

These short rods tend to average 7 ft 6 in long and take lines of 4 weight or less, double tapers are the lines of choice.  The Italians tend to refer to the style as “coda leggero” or light line and have a tendency to under gun the rod by a line weight.  They like tip action rods. Whilst the preferred rod is short they can also adopt the style for longer more traditional rod length of 8 – 9 ft.

Leaders as mentioned earlier are longer than perhaps we would choose 16 – 18 ft being the norm.  They are also made up of lengths that are looped together rather than joined with a blood or water knot.  The reason for this is if they deliver a pile cast, although they would probably call it something else, the leader is less likely to spring open and straighten.

River Tronto, Ascoli

River Tronto, Ascoli

Italian style casting is very distinctive by the amount of drift that they produce both on the back and forward cast.  This drift is produced after a very short sharp power snap.  They really understand that the power snap or rotation determines the size of the loop.  They generate extremely tight loops which enable them the cast into very tight spaces. To create these loops they have very small deviations off the straight line path. To smooth the cast out and reduce the effect of recoil they introduce drift both back and front.

To compensate for the lightness of the line they create additional line speed or velocity to deliver the cast.  The power snaps are early in the back cast; they would say just in front of your cheek or eye and late on the forward stroke shortly before the arm is extended.  When the style was first introduced to the UK there was a lot of talk about not having any stops on the back and front cast.  I remember the internet arguments that took place asking how this can be and that if you abide by the five essential you need a stop back and front.  What they really meant I think was that due to the lightness of the line to flex the rod effectively you had to increase the tempo or line speed.  They have stops immediately after the rotation phase directly followed by drift, it is fast smooth and flows when you watch it being done correctly.

This is not intended to be a thesis on the Italian style of casting, I will ultimately encourage you to attend a work shop to discover more.  I have recently spent three days in a place called Ascoli, Italy with FFM to find out what they got up to and how they organised their activity, I can say it was an eye opener.

Firstly they do speak the same language as us albeit in Italian.  Stroke length, straight line paths, avoiding slack, drift, trajectory, tailing loops and many more aspects of the perfect cast are in their vocabulary.

They conduct assessments of their instructors to an agreed standard and they keep detailed log books so that they can monitor improvement or areas that require improvement. They also used modern technology to conduct analysis of their casts both for self improvement and fault finding exercises. By modern technology I mean Go-Pro and other video cameras.  On this occasion they had obtained a conference suite from the local council and after seven hours of casting then sat for a further two or three carrying out the analysis.

Why bother with this style you might be asking? I think that you should bother because it adds another string to your bow and gives another dimension on casting.  You also do not need to go to Italy, but you can if you wish. To attend a workshop and there are likely to be two in the UK during 2014 a July workshop  given by FFM and likely to be in the Border area and another by SIM in September in the South Wales area. They will not be expensive and I am certain that you will learn something so would encourage you to attend.

Fly Dressing Master Class and the BFFI

February 10th, 2014

For the last few years I have been lucky enough to get an invite to a fly dressing master class that Paul Little runs in the lead up to the British Fly Fair International.  There are normally a dozen or so tiers present from the UK and the USA.  The USA sent Marvin Nolte and Stack Scoville, Peter Kealy from N Ireland and Brian Burnett from Scotland.  These were just a few names there was circa  a dozen or so of us present.

Dusty Miller Variant

Dusty Miller Variant

Paul Little was extremely patient and managed to get us to tie three flies over the two days.  We did not just tie three flies we talked a lot and discussed and demonstrated various techniques along side the tying.  I have always had issues with bronze Mallard wings on Spey flies, not being able to put them on without splitting, so we covered this in some detail, hopefully my Spey flies will be fantastic to look at and fish with in the future.

Another interesting technique was to substitute the rachis of a feather with a touch of glue off a glue stick.  When tying in feathers such as brown mallard as a wing it is normal to leave the rachis attached so as to support the fibres whilst tying in.   The rachis sometimes is on the stiff side and tends to pull on the fibres. Exchanging the rachis for glue off a glue stick left a more flexible support, its possible also to apply some to the butts of a built wing fly.

Double Winged Ackroyd

Double Winged Ackroyd

Brown Shrimp Grub

Brown Shrimp Grub








Above are a couple of other flies that we completed.  The Ackroyd is a Dee style fly with deltas wings and the grub by its name is meant to represent a shrimp style salmon fly.  All the flies in the photos were tied with gut eyes.

Following the workshop I then spent a couple of days with my GAIA (Game Angling Instructor Association) pals at the British Fly Fair   promoting the Association and tying flies.  I am always a bit like a child in a sweetie shop, as a fly dresser there is always so much to see and so many must have items.  This year I was particularly impressed by a Whiting Spey Hackle cape.  It is the perfect heron hackle substitute absolutely stunning feathers that could well have been Heron apart from the fact it was salmon pink.  Sadly I could not buy it as it belonged to one of the tiers but I did return on a number of occasions just to look at it,  how sad is that.   I will never criticise women coveting handbags and shoes again.


Clyde Style on the Saturday










The GAIA aspect of the show was good with lots of people showing an interest in what we did and how we do it.  It made me think about what our priorities where as an organisation, we definitely need to spend more time introducing people into game angling.

All three of us me, Chris and Alun and past chairman of GAIA Phil White