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Title: Chats on Angling
Author: Hart-Davis, H. V.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



DEDICATED

TO

THE LADY KATHERINE HARDY.

[Illustration: A WOODLAND STREAM.]



CHATS ON ANGLING.

    BY

    CAPTAIN H. V. HART-DAVIS,
    Author of "Stalking Sketches."

    WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY THE AUTHOR.

    LONDON:
    HORACE COX,
    WINDSOR HOUSE, BREAM'S BUILDINGS, E.C.

    1906.


  LONDON:

  PRINTED BY HORACE COX, WINDSOR HOUSE, BREAM'S BUILDINGS, E.C.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


    A WOODLAND STREAM                _Frontispiece._
    WAITING FOR A RISE          _Facing page_     5
    BRINGING HIM DOWN TO THE NET         "       25
    THE SEDGE HOUR                       "       35
    A DRY FLY DAY ON LOCH ARD            "       47
    LUNCHEON                             "       61
    NEARING THE END                      "       72
    GET THE GAFF READY                   "       79
    HE MEANS GOING DOWN                  "       88
    THE FALL'S POOL                      "      101



CONTENTS.


    INTRODUCTORY                            _page_    1

    CHAPTER I.
    IN PRAISE OF THE DRY FLY                   "      3

    CHAPTER II.
    DRY FLY TACKLE AND EQUIPMENT               "      7

    CHAPTER III.
    DRY FLY MAXIMS                            "      13

    CHAPTER IV.
    EDUCATION OF THE SOUTH COUNTRY TROUT      "      23

    CHAPTER V.
    THE MAY FLY                               "      27

    CHAPTER VI.
    THE EVENING RISE                          "      33

    CHAPTER VII.
    "JACK"                                    "      37

    CHAPTER VIII.
    WEED CUTTING                              "      40

    CHAPTER IX.
    THE ANGLER AND AMBIDEXTERITY              "      43

    CHAPTER X.
    LOCH FISHING                             "       46

    CHAPTER XI.
    DAPPING FOR TROUT                        "       53

    CHAPTER XII.
    GRAYLING FISHING                         "       57

    CHAPTER XIII.
    NOTES ON RAINBOW TROUT                   "       61

    CHAPTER XIV.
    SALMON FISHING                           "       66

    CHAPTER XV.
    A TRIP TO IRELAND                        "       79

    CHAPTER XVI.
    SALMON AND FLIES                         "       86

    CHAPTER XVII.
    SALMON OF THE AWE                        "       91

    CHAPTER XVIII.
    DISAPPOINTING DAYS                       "       97

    CHAPTER XIX.
    SEA TROUT FISHING AND ITS CHANCES       "       106

    L'ENVOI                                 "       113



CHATS ON ANGLING



INTRODUCTORY.


TO those who love angling, with all its associations and surroundings,
no apology may be needed for inflicting on them in book form certain
short articles which have mainly appeared in the columns of the
_Field_. They are "Chats" rather than didactic deliverances, and are
offered in the belief that much will be forgiven to a brother angler,
since all that pertains to the beloved pastime has some interest, and
the experiences of the poorest writer that ever recorded his views and
fancies may haply strike some responsive note.

But to the outside world, to those who care nought for all we hold
so dear, to those who would rank all fishermen as fools, and would
classify them as Dr. Johnson was said to have done--to such these notes
cannot appeal; they will regard them, not unnaturally perhaps, as yet
one more addition, of a desultory kind, to an already overladen subject.

No form of sport has so enduring a charm to its votaries as angling.
Its praises have been sung for centuries, from Dame Julia Berners
to the present day. Once an angler, always an angler; years roll by
only to increase the fervour of our devotion. It is a quiet, simple,
unassuming kind of madness, without any of the excitement or the
glamour of the race meeting or of the hunting field, and the love and
the madness are incomprehensible and inexplicable to those who neither
share them nor know them.

The quiet stroll by the stream or river bank, the constant communing
with nature, the watching of bird and insect life, appeal with
irresistible force and power to the angler. As the short winter days
draw out, and spring begins to assert her revivifying powers, the
longing, intense as ever, comes over us, and we yearn for the river
side. And the lessons that we learn from our love for it are not
without value; patience and self-control come naturally to those who
have the real angling instinct.

How widely spread this natural instinct is we may gather from observing
the long lines of fishermen, each with his few feet of bank pegged
out, engaged in some competition, and watching with intense interest
for long hours the quiet float in front of him. Give him but a better
chance of following up his instinct, and doubtless he would take with
increased zeal to those higher branches of the sport that appeal more
directly to most of us--the keenness is there, the opportunity alone is
wanting.

Seeing that fishing and its charms have been so amply extolled and set
forth by such able and various pens, from Father Walton, the merchant,
prince of all writers on this subject, down to later days in continuous
line, through such names as Kingsley (man of letters), or Sir Edward
Grey (man of affairs)--writers whose works will live, and who can
inspire in us the enthusiasm of sympathetic feeling--why, it may be
asked, is it that we are not content, and that so many of us cannot
refrain from publishing our impressions? There can be no answer to this
query except it be as in my own case, the confession of a desire to
record some of the experiences, gained through many years, in the hope
that some crumb of information may be gleaned therefrom, and that the
pleasure taken in recording them may find a responsive echo in some
breast.

I would wish at once to disarm possible criticism by candidly admitting
that this little work has no literary, or indeed any other pretensions.
It is merely what it purports to be--a series of articles strung
together, with the object that I have already described.

I would desire also to thank the proprietors of the _Field_ for their
permission to reprint such articles as have already appeared in that
paper. My thanks are also due to my old friend Mr. W. Senior and to Mr.
Sheringham for having been kind enough to glance through my MSS. and
give me the benefit of their most valued criticism.

    WARDLEY HALL, _August, 1905_.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER I.

IN PRAISE OF THE DRY FLY.


THE methods of the "Dry Fly" Fisherman, as compared with those of
his brother of the "Wet Fly," are absolutely distinct, and demand
totally different characteristics. It is idle to compare them, or to
praise one to the disparagement of the other. The sooner this kind
of carping criticism is entirely abandoned the better. The dry fly
purist may argue until he is black in the face; he will never convert
the wet fly devotee. Nor, on the other hand, is there the slightest
chance of the South Country chalk stream Angler being induced to
give up his favourite form of sport. Quite apart from the fact that
different waters require different treatment, the two methods appeal to
absolutely different temperaments. Take for example the wet fly man.
He wends his way, probably down stream, fishing all the fishable water
before him, carefully searching with his flies all the quick water and
stickles; placing his flies deftly near the eddy by that half-sunken
rock, round which the swirl comes, forming a convenient resting-place
for a goodly trout; or with careful underhand cast searches under the
overhanging branches of yonder tree; always alert and on the move,
leaving untried no likely holt, keeping as far as possible out of
sight, and showing himself to be a master of his art. But he has always
a roving commission. He may, of course, elect to fish up stream, and
many an expert in that line may be met with; but, even then, his art
differs radically from that of the angler with the floating fly.

[Illustration: WAITING FOR A RISE.]

From the latter are required in a special degree a quick and accurate
eye, great delicacy and accuracy in the actual cast, and above all, a
quiet, watchful disposition; he cannot whip the water on the chance of
catching an unseen trout. His _rôle_ is to scan the water, to watch
the duns and ascertain their identity, to spot at once the dimple of
a rising fish, and to differentiate between such a rise and the swirl
made by a tailing fish. He will note the flow of the stream, and
whether he will have to counteract the fateful drag. Having made up
his mind, arranged his plan of action, and selected his fly, he will
crawl up as near as may be desirable below his fish, taking care not to
alarm in his approach any other that may lie between him and it; then,
after one or two preliminary casts to regulate his distance, he will
despatch his fly, to alight, as lightly as may be, some three or four
inches above his fish. His field glasses will have told him, even if
his natural eyesight could not, the quality of the fish he is trying
for, and for good or evil his cast is made.

Perhaps he has under-estimated the distance, and if it be a bank
fish he is attacking his fly may float down some twelve inches from
the bank under which the fish is lying. In that case he will not
withdraw it until it is well past the trout, but he may have noted
that half-defined, but encouraging, movement which the trout made as
the fly sailed past. His next cast is a better one, and, guided by the
stream under the bank, the fly, jauntily cocking, an olive quill of
the right size and shade, will pass over the trout's nose. A natural
dun comes along abreast of his; will his poor imitation be taken in
preference to the Simon pure? By the powers, it is! A confident upward
tilt of the trout, a pink mouth opens, and the 000 hook is sucked in;
one turn of the wrist, and he is hooked. Despite a mad dash up stream
the bonnie two-pounder--in the lusty vigour of high condition--is soon
controlled and steadied by the even strain of the ten-foot cane-built
rod. Down stream now he rushes; he will soon exhaust himself at that
game. Keep quietly below him, and keep the rod-point up. That was a
narrow squeak! He nearly gained that weed-bank! Had he effected his
purpose, nothing but hand-lining would have had the slightest chance
of extricating him, but the rod strain being applied at the right
moment and in the right direction, the gallant fish is turned back.
That effort, happily counteracted, has beaten him; he soon begins to
flop upon the surface and show evident signs of surrendering. The
landing net is quietly disengaged and half submerged in the stream
below him--for if he sees it he will be nerved to fresh efforts--and
his head being kept up, he is guided without fuss into its embrace. And
after he is given his instant and humane quietus with one tap, rightly
placed, of the "Priest," the pipe is lit, tackle is adjusted, and there
is leisure to admire the beautiful proportions of a newly caught trout,
the glorious colouring of his spots and golden belly. Something has
been accomplished, something done. A fair stalk has been rewarded, and
it is no chance success.

Those happy days when there is a good rise of fly, when the fish are
in their stations, heads up, and lying near the top of the water, and
the wind is not too contrary, should indeed be gratefully remembered. A
short length of water will suffice for the dry fly man--a few hundred
yards. For him there need be no restless rushing from place to place.
Quiet watching and waiting, constant observation of what is going on in
the river beneath him, these are his requirements.

But on the days when the rise is scant and short, and the trout seem
to be all glued to the bottom, or when a strong down stream wind
nearly baffles the angler, then his patience will be somewhat sorely
tested; even under these discouraging conditions there are places in
the river unswept by wind, most rivers having a serpentine course; on
one of these our angler will take up his position, and his patience and
perseverance will be rewarded. And if the trout be, as I have said,
glued to the bed of the river, and there is no rise of fly to tempt
them to the surface, he will wait patiently. It will not be always so;
a change of temperature will come or some subtle atmospheric change
about which we know so little, but which effects a wonderful change
in the trout. They begin, as it were, at such changes to wake up from
their lethargy, to come nearer to the surface and to re-assume their
favourite positions--at the tail of yonder weed bank--or in the oily
glide under the bank side. The first few flies of the hatch may be
allowed to pass by them, apparently unheeded or unnoticed, but before
long they settle down to feeding in a serious manner. Now is your
opportunity, make the most of it; and if you keep well down and make
no bungling cast, your creel will soon be somewhat weightier than it
promised to be a short hour ago. Our friend the chalk stream trout will
brook no bungling; he is easily put down and scared, and the delicate
accuracy needed in securing him forms the most potent of the many
charms of this most beautiful of sports.

Should, as may often prove to be the case, the unpropitious conditions
continue without improvement, our angler is not without resource. His
surroundings are so entirely congenial; he lies on the fresh green
meadow-grass, the hedgerows ablaze with blossom, the copses in their
newly-donned green mantles, blue with the shimmering sheen of countless
blue-bells, are full of rejoicing and of promise. The birds, instinct
with their love-making and nesting operations, are full of life; all
nature seems to be vigorous with new-born hope. The true angler can
rejoice with them all, sharing their pleasure and delight, drinking
in pure draughts of ozone, and adding, perchance, to his store of
knowledge of insect and animal life. His field glasses, as he lies
prone and sheltered, bring him within touch and range of many sights
that otherwise would have passed unnoticed. That water vole coasting
along the bank side, pausing incontinently to sit up and look around,
those rabbits playing near the burrow mouth, the moorhens cruising
round the flags and sedges, all afford interest and instruction. In the
very grass on which he lies he will find ample scope for observation
and amusement in his enforced leisure should he care to watch the
teeming multitudes of insects that throng it, his ears meanwhile being
solaced and refreshed by countless woodland songsters.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER II.

DRY FLY TACKLE AND EQUIPMENT.


MODERN glued-up cane rods have practically done away with hickory, blue
gum, or other wooden rods--at any rate, as far as dry fly angling is
concerned. Their action when well made is so true and quick, they pick
up the line from the water in the way their forerunners never could;
they are not liable to snap or break, and if tended carefully are very
long-lived. Most of us have old favourite greenheart or other rods,
companions in many a pleasant hour. We would not part with them, but on
the other hand would leave them lying in their cases, taking out our
cane rods in preference. The big grip on the butt, whether of cork,
leather, or wood, prevents to a great extent the cramp to the fingers
that would be certain to come from using our former small-butted rods
in dry fly work.

Built-up cane rods vary, of course, greatly in quality and durability.
Cheap ones may be bought, and they will certainly turn out a dear
purchase. It is best to buy one from the very best makers only, and
eschew as worthless all cheap imitations. Having decided to purchase
a built-up rod, we have to consider its length, etc. It is, I think,
generally agreed that a length of from 9 ft. 6 in. to 10 ft. 6 in.
is ample--the latter, in my opinion, for choice. Messrs. Hardy, of
Alnwick and London, have devoted so much labour and attention to
built-up rods as to deserve a somewhat pre-eminent position amongst
the many successful firms that make them. This firm produces many
forms of rods suitable for dry fly work. Their "Perfection" rod is a
very sweet weapon for the purpose, quick in its action, true as steel,
has great power of recovery, and is light in the hand; but for choice
I would pin my faith to one of their 10 ft. 6 in. "Pope" rods in two
pieces. Such a one has been my constant companion for some seasons,
and, though other makers may be able to turn out as good a rod, I feel
convinced that none could turn out a better. The old attachments of
the ferrules of former days have also gone by the board, and a bayonet
joint has superseded them, to our great advantage. The upper ring on
the point should be of the Bickerdyke pattern, the other rod rings of
the ordinary snake pattern and made of German silver. The reel fittings
should be of the "Universal" type, a conical socket taking one end of
the reel base, the other end being secured by a loose ring. Personally,
I do not care for a spear; I find them awkward at times, their only
advantage being that your rod may be spiked when putting on a fly or
when hand-lining a "weeded" fish. If one is desired, it should be
carried inside the handle of the butt, the button screwing over it and
holding it in its place.

I would not advocate a steel-centred rod, at any rate for a
single-handed trout rod. The absolute union of metal and cane can never
be secured, nor can the action of the two be precisely identical.
Besides, how are you advantaged? The hexagonal form of the built-up rod
is ideal for strength, and a rod without a steel centre can be made
with perfect action, able to do all that may be required of it.

Reels also have undergone great improvements of late years. They are
lighter, more easily cleaned, the check action is better regulated; a
double check spring that allows the line to be reeled up quickly and
easily, and at the same time offers a stronger resistance to an outward
pull, is now almost universally employed. Aluminium, thin-brazed steel,
have replaced brass and even ebonite. The air is admitted to the coils
of line, and reeling up is rendered more rapid and effective. The
"Moscrop" reel is excellent in many ways, and fulfils many of the chief
requirements of modern reels, it has, moreover, a screw drag, which can
be used to regulate the retarding action of the check. Messrs. Hardy
produce an altogether admirable reel, which they have patented and call
the "Perfect." Such a reel for an ordinary cane-built rod of the length
we have chosen should be three inches in diameter, and will carry
forty yards of tapered line, with some backing, if thought necessary or
desirable.

Avoid for choice patent aluminium American reels. I have one by me
whilst writing. The check action is outside, and can be taken off
at pleasure and the line allowed to run freely without hindrance.
The perforated face of the drum which carries the handle is
counter-balanced, so that it may be used as a Nottingham reel. But the
main advantage claimed is that the rim, within which the drum revolves
freely, is springy, and by pressing the thumb upon it the drum is at
once arrested and its revolution stopped. Of course, by this means
your line can be absolutely stopped at any moment should a fish make
a determined rush into any obstacle, but at the expense of your fly
and cast. I am told that experts with this reel cast with a free line,
arresting the fly at the precise moment required by the thumb pressure,
and thereby assisting themselves in judging the length of the cast, and
that the check is never clicked into action until the fish is hooked.
I have often tried it, and found that the inadvertent pressure of the
thumb or wrist upon the rim has cost me several good fish. In fixing
your reel, I would counsel its being so placed that the handle is on
the left side of the rod. In playing the fish it will be necessary,
therefore, to reverse your rod; the line will then run near the rod and
avoid the friction against the rings, and the strain will be taken off
your rod, or, rather, applied in a contrary direction to that which it
so constantly receives when casting.

The line should be tapered, and should be of oil-dressed silk, such
as is now supplied by all good tackle makers. The taper should be
five or six yards in length, and when in use, in order to obviate the
constant shortening process it receives from attaching it to your
cast, I invariably whip a length of stoutish grilse gut to its end,
to which I attach my cast. This upper length can always be renewed at
pleasure. This plan I find better than a loop. The weight of the line
is a most important point; it should be as heavy in its centre part
beyond the taper as will bring out the best casting powers of your rod.
The balance of the line to the rod is all important; a little trouble
in selecting a suitable line will be amply repaid. Do not forget, after
using it, to draw off many coils of line to dry before finally putting
your reel away, and, as it is important that your line should float
well, do not forget to take some deer's fat with you with which to
anoint it.

We next come to the cast. Two and a half yards of tapered gut are all
that is necessary, tapered from stout to the finest undrawn procurable.
I would discard drawn gut altogether, possibly because I am too clumsy
to use it to my satisfaction. It is generally, however, easy to procure
real undrawn gut of sufficient fineness from such firms as Ramsbottom,
and a hank of such gut, in fifteen or sixteen-inch strands, should
always be acquired when found. If kept out of the light, wrapped
preferably in chamois leather, it will keep a long time. Take with
you some dozen or so of such strands and a spare made-up cast in your
damping box, and you will have all you will require in a day's fishing.

Your landing-net should be ample in circumference. The net itself deep
and commodious; the ring should be solid, of bent wood, with a knuckle
joint of gunmetal to attach it to the handle. The net should be of
dressed cord, so that the fly will not become fixed in the knots. It
is a great mistake to have too short a handle; you may have to reach
far over sedges to get at your fish to land him. If you sling your
landing-net on your left side, as is usually done, a long handle is
very inconvenient in kneeling; therefore, use a telescope handle for
choice. Wading trousers or stockings and brogues will complete your
equipment, though, of course, some kind of basket or bag will be needed
to enable you to carry your luncheon, your tackle, and your fish. All
tackle makers will supply you with an ample assortment for choice in
this matter. Possibly a waterproof bag with partitions and an outside
net to place the fish in is the most convenient. Small linen bags in
which to place the fish or linen cloths in which to wrap them are not
out of place. One further article I should advise you to take with
you, and that is a good pair of field glasses. They will multiply the
pleasure of your stalk tenfold. With them you can search the water
before you can spot effectively the most desirable fish, and ascertain
more exactly what flies the fish are taking; whilst, if nothing is
doing and the fish are lying like stones on the river bed or huddled
away in the recesses of the weeds, you can amuse yourself with watching
bird life and while away the time to your infinite pleasure.

Having fully equipped ourselves so far, we have now to consider our
flies. I take it that no one who fishes with the floating fly nowadays
clings to the use of flies mounted upon gut. Eyed flies have no doubt
replaced them for all time. The very drying of your fly is too severe
upon the heads of gut-mounted flies. Eyed hooks have, however, had
to fight their way to the front, so prejudiced are we all, and I can
picture to myself now a prominent legislator, a great angler and the
author of one of the best sporting books published of late, standing by
me on Test side, on a meadow near Longparish, his cap literally covered
with artificial flies attached to strands of gut--a most extraordinary
sight. The fish were most unkind, taking greedily some kind of small
black insect, or fisherman's curse. We had offered them every kind of
midge fly or black gnat we could think of, with scant success. Our
friend, in gazing for the twentieth time at his fly-bedecked cap, saw a
group of black ants, on gut, amongst others. The first one put on not
only procured a rise, but hooked the fish; one run, and he was gone,
the fly remaining in his mouth. So with the next. In vain we soaked the
gut; each fly met with the same result--it was at once taken and the
fish was at once lost. The gut was absolutely rotten, and that pattern
of ant was apparently the only medicine. Our friend fairly danced
upon the bank in rage and disappointment. And it was all he could
do to restrain himself from dancing on his rod and from using very
unparliamentary language. I believe that even he is a convert to eyed
flies now.

Whether the flies should have turned up or turned down eyes is a matter
of controversy. Personally, I prefer the latter. In any case, the eye
should not be too small, or much mental anguish will result. It is
needless to say that they should be well tempered and with sound barbs.
They should be tested in a piece of soft wood.

Have a reserve box of flies, made in compartments, so that you can
replenish from time to time the little box you carry with you. This
pocket box may be quite small. I like one three inches square and
one inch deep, with rounded corners, and with bars of cork across it
inside. It will carry all you need. My pliers I always attach to one
of the buttons of my coat, as otherwise I am always misplacing them.
Nothing beats Major Turle's Knot as an attachment of the gut collar to
the fly.

If you should be fishing the evening rise at a time when it is
difficult to thread the eye of a fly, even with the expenditure of
many matches, do not forget before you go out to mount some sedges or
large red quills upon fairly stout gut points and put them in your cap.
They will come in most usefully, and save a strain upon your temper.

The use of deodorised mineral oil for anointing your flies has been
greatly decried of late. I can only say that it is a great assistance,
especially on a pouring wet day, and I should be sorry to be without
it. I do not like, however, the inconvenient bottle generally carried
for this purpose. I use a common metal matchbox, in which I have
placed a piece of spungeo-piline, on which I have poured a few drops
of the oil. The hackles of the fly can be pressed against this, and
so anointed with the greatest ease. Fish do not appear to mind the
appearance of the oil that, of course, appears to float round your fly;
and, as they do not mind and it enables you better to keep your fly
floating and cocked under adverse conditions, why not use it?

As to the flies to be used, as I have said in another chapter, the
fewer the better.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER III.

SOME DRY FLY MAXIMS.


IT would ill become a humble follower of the art to enter into a
minute description of the various methods of casting, seeing that the
subject has been so fully thrashed out by Mr. Halford, in his "Dry Fly
Fishing"; mere repetition would be both wearisome and valueless. If
anyone needs instruction on the subject, let him turn to that volume,
and read, mark, and learn. It seems to me, however, that a correct
style can best be obtained by accompanying and watching a really
competent fisherman. No amount of book reading will secure this, and
as in all kindred sports, practice, and intelligent practice, is
absolutely necessary if the tyro would aspire to any excellence. The
art of fishing the floating fly is not one that will admit of any
mediocrity. It requires and demands such accuracy, such co-ordination
of delicacy and strength, that mediocrity is impossible.

A few points may, however, be discussed with advantage. First, and
foremost, do not be ambitious as to the length of line you can cast,
or the amount of water you can cover. Be content, rather, to fish
with just that length of line that you can control with ease and
accuracy. In the actual act of casting never sway the body; keep the
trunk rigidly still, never let your hand, in the backward cast, go
beyond a vertical point above your shoulder; keeping the elbow near
the side, get all the work you can out of the rod; it will do all that
is required of it so long as you do not over-cast with it. Watch the
expert angler; how easily he works his twenty yards of line; there is
an entire absence of all effort; it looks as easy as shelling peas.
The beginner or duffer will invariably put too much effort into his
cast; he will not allow time for the line to extend itself behind him;
he will bring his hand so far back that the fly will be hung up in
the grasses or bushes behind him, and the force of his forward cast
will make the line cut the water like a knife, and the fly will be
delivered in the midst of a series of curls of gut, presenting anything
but an attractive appearance to the fish. The movement of the hand in
an accomplished fisherman is singularly slight; I doubt if it ever
traverses much more than twelve inches from the vertical position.

Rest content with the ordinary overhead cast until you are an absolute
master of it. When this desirable result is accomplished, there are one
or two casts well deserving of care and attention. One in particular
you should seek to accomplish--viz., the cast into the teeth of an
adverse wind. Recollect that, under those circumstances, you can
usually approach much nearer to fish than when the wind is up stream or
non-existent; therefore you can use a shorter line. The cast is called
the "downward" cast, and is really very simple. The backward part is
the same as in ordinary casting, but in the forward delivery the hand
traverses a much greater angle, and at the finish the rod point is near
to the water. At the moment of delivery the elbow is brought up level
with the shoulder, the thumb is depressed, the knuckles being kept
uppermost. The resultant effect is that the line cuts straight into
the wind, and is little affected by it. In a foul wind flies cock and
float more easily than in a down stream wind; so this, at any rate,
is in your favour. Yet one more style of casting should be practised.
I have found it invaluable when awkward trees have been overhanging
my own bank. It is what is called by salmon anglers the "Spey Cast."
Inasmuch as it avoids the necessity of bringing your line behind you,
its value is self-evident. This is the method of the cast: Having got
out as much line as you think you will need, get it out up stream of
you, bring the fly quickly towards you out of the water, allow the fly
just to kiss the water when it is just level with you, the curve of the
line being down stream of you, then, with a similar kind of action to
that advocated for the downward cast, your line will be sent forward
in a series of coils to the desired spot. It is always worth trying
and may secure you a good fish, one perhaps that others have passed by
as unapproachable, and which may thereby have acquired a confidence
that may be misplaced. This form of casting is much easier in salmon
fishing, as you are then fishing down stream, and the water extends
and straightens your line for you. It is, however, quite easy of
accomplishment, with a moderately short line, in up stream fishing.

Mr. Halford, in "Dry Fly Angling," p. 62, describes a cast which
he terms the "Switch Cast," and it is one which, though difficult
of acquisition, will accomplish the same object. He says, "It is
accomplished by drawing the line towards you on the water, and throwing
the fly with a kind of roll outwards on the water--in fact, a sort of
downward cast; the possibility of making the cast depending upon the
fly being in the water at the moment the rod point is brought down,"
&c. Personally, I should prefer the Spey cast, and inasmuch as most
salmon fishermen know something of that peculiar cast, I would urge its
occasional use in dry fly work, more especially having regard to the
fact that fish in such positions have acquired a confidence through
never having been angled for, and therefore there is greater chance
of a somewhat bungling presentment of the dry fly being overlooked.
To describe the Spey cast accurately so as to convey the desired
instruction in such a way that all who run may read, is not by any
means easy; but, as I have before said, it is probably familiar to many
anglers from salmon fishing experiences.

One more thing deserves to be borne in mind: always imagine that the
plane of the water is some foot or so higher than it really is--that
is to say, cast as if the fish, and the water in which it lies, were a
foot higher than in reality. The result will be that your collar will
fall as lightly as gossamer. One of the most proficient manipulators of
the rod and line I have ever seen can pitch a fly, cocked and floating,
almost anywhere within reasonable limits, but his line invariably cuts
the water from point to fly, straight and accurate enough may be, but
like whip-cord. Consequently, he is not the successful angler that his
qualifications entitle him to be. An ordinary fisherman casting a less
straight, but lighter, line will frequently beat him in catching fish.
Our friend would beat most opponents in a casting tournament, but I
would back many that I know against him in filling a creel.

Keep down out of sight, walk and crawl warily, and above all things
avoid walking near the bank edge and unnecessarily scaring fish that
others following you might otherwise have secured.

When trout are "bulging" (that is to say, as every angler knows, when
they are taking the "nymphæ" just below the surface), it is almost
hopeless to endeavour to secure them with a dry, floating fly. The fish
are intent on another kind of game, and are best left severely alone.

Unfortunately, even experienced anglers are apt to be deceived by such
a fish; the rise is often apparently that of a trout at a surface fly;
a little careful observation will, however, convince you that such is
not the case, for no floating flies are passing near him at the time of
his rise. Don't waste another moment upon him, but try to find another
in a more reasonable frame of mind. If all the fish on your stretch of
water seem to be similarly occupied, and you are not willing to wait
until they have decided to make a change of diet, then a gold ribbed
hare's ear may, if fished wet, entice an odd fish, as it somewhat
resembles a nympha.

It is, however, very chance work, as is that of endeavouring to secure
a "tailing" fish with a down stream fly sunk below the surface, and
jerked about in front of where his nose should be. No keen angler would
call this serious fishing--it is a mere travesty of the real sport; but
it may serve to pass the time, and perchance to wile a trout into your
basket. The angler's patience will, however, be far more severely tried
when fish are "smutting." What prophet is there who can tell us what we
should do then? Those abominable "curses," so well named, appear to be
able to baffle entirely the skill of the ablest of our entomologists,
and the ability of our most capable of fly dressers. No lure has yet
been discovered that can have any reasonable hope of imitating them.
To watch a big trout slowly and majestically sail here and there on
a still, hot day, barely dimpling the surface as he sucks down one
after another of these little insignificant "curses," is quite enough
to satisfy you as to the remoteness of your chance of deceiving him.
Nothing that human hands could tie could simulate them. Place in the
track of one of these fish the smallest gnat in your box, attached to
the finest of undrawn gut, delivered with the lightest and truest cast
of which the human hand is capable and, as you watch the fish fade
slowly down into the depths in disgust at the evident deception, you
will realise the hopelessness of your endeavour.

It is an old accusation against fishermen that they are apt to overload
themselves with multitudinous flies, of which perhaps they never try
half; and in this accusation there is a good deal of truth. I recollect
one occasion in particular, when five men sallied forth to fish, and
on their return all more or less bewailed the shyness of the trout,
and each declared that, though he had tried many changes of fly, he
had only found one to succeed. Oddly enough, each man had pitched on a
different fly: they were the Driffield dun, the pale olive, the hare's
ear and yellow, the ginger quill, and the red quill. In each case the
size was similar, viz., 000; but the fact is, that most men have a
favourite fly to which they pin their faith, and to which they give ten
chances for one to the others. There are occasions, of course, where
one fly and only one will succeed.

I well remember one day, on the Tichbourne water on the Itchen, when
that fine stretch of water was simply alive with olives, coming in
droves and batches over the fish, and when it seemed hopeless for
one's poor imitation to succeed, even when put correctly cocked in
front of a batch, or behind a drove, or by itself. The trout were
rising slowly and methodically, letting many flies pass scatheless,
but now and then picking out one without moving an inch from their
position. I tried vainly to discover the method of their madness, and
at last realised that they were selecting from amongst the myriads
of toothsome _ephemeridæ_ floating over their heads a redder-looking
fly. I could not wade, I could not manage to get one with my landing
net, so I put on at hazard a small red quill, with no response; then
a Hawker's yellow got a rise or two, and even deluded a brace of fish
into my creel, and then the glorious rise was over. Next morning, when
whirling back to town, I found myself in a carriage with four or five
anglers who had been fishing the next beat, and the murder was out.
One fortunate man had ascertained that they were taking the ginger
quills, which were very sparsely scattered amongst the olives, and that
information resulted in his taking nine brace of beautiful fish.

But as a rule, it is far more a question of the correct delivery of the
fly than anything else, provided the size be right. For myself, I never
leave a rising fish that I have not scared, unless I am convinced there
is some objectionable and unavoidable drag; sooner or later you will
get him, possibly with the same fly that has been over his head a dozen
or so of times. We are all too ready to resort to a change of fly, and
to leave a non-responsive fish in disgust, in the hope of finding an
easier quarry. My advice is to stick to your fish unless, or until, he
is scared. Possibly the most annoying fish is the one that drops slowly
down, with his nose in close proximity to the fly, evidently uncertain
as to whether or no it is the Simon Pure, until he gets perilously near
to you. Even his scruples may be overcome if he gets back into position
without being alarmed. One of the most successful anglers I ever knew
on the upper Test, who owned a well-known stretch of water, was wont to
sally forth with two rods put up, one of which he carried, while the
other was carried by his keeper. On one was mounted a hare's ear, on
the other a blue dun; and that these flies answered their purpose his
records could testify.

A difficulty that presents itself to the chalk stream angler is the
tendency of fish when hooked and when scared by seeing the angler
to bury themselves in the heavy masses of weed. This has now been
discounted by the modern method of hand lining--_i.e._, spiking the rod
and taking a good deal of slack line off the reel, and then holding
the line in the hand and using a gentle pressure on the fish in the
direction contrary to that in which he went. He usually responds very
readily, and the rod may then be resumed. Indeed, it is astonishing how
fish can be led and coaxed under this influence--the fact being that,
the upward play of the rod always tending to lift the fish out of his
own element and so drown him, he naturally plays hard to avoid this;
take the upward strain off him and he becomes another creature.

Yet another difficulty encountered by the dry fly fisherman is caused
by fish coming short. What angler is there who has not experienced
this annoyance, and how often, as Mr. Halford in his work on Dry Fly
Fishing has noticed, does the angler find that after the first rush is
over and the hook comes away there is a small scale firmly fixed on
the barb, showing that the fish has been foul-hooked? My observations
on this class of rise would lead me to believe that the fish moved to
the fly in the ordinary manner, but that something arose to excite his
mistrust, and that he closed his mouth while the impetus of his rise
broke the water, making the angler think that it was a real rise, so
that he struck, and on his striking the hook took a light hold on the
outside--a hold seldom effective, though most fishermen have landed
fish hooked in such a way. I have generally found in such cases that
a smaller hook has produced a more confident rise, and my experience
would not lead me to endorse Mr. Halford's view that the use of a 000
hook handicaps the angler very heavily. It may do so with the heavy
Houghton water fish, but I have not found it a severe handicap with the
smaller trout--1 lb. to 2½ lb.--of the upper Test and similar waters.

A very keen and expert dry fly fisherman, the late Mr. Harry Maxwell,
one of the best of friends and anglers, once showed me a method of
taking fish lying with their tails against a wire fencing that crossed
the Test at right-angles, the wire moreover being barbed. I was fishing
in Hurstbourne Park, and he was accompanying me, as he often did,
with his field-glass. Below the "cascade" a four or five-stranded
barbed wire fence went straight across the water. Just above it, in
mid-stream, in the stickle, a plump, transparent-looking Test fish of
about 1½ lb. had taken up his position, and was boldly taking every
dun within reach. My friend told me to catch him, and I said at once I
did not know how to do it without getting hung up. He then explained
his dodge, which may be carried out as follows:--Having waded in below
the fish, take some loose coils of line off the reel in the left hand,
then cast well above, and let the dry well-cocked fly float down to
him. If he accepts it and comes down under the fence slack off the
loose coils, get up to the fence as quickly as possible, pass the rod
under and over, and then you are free to play the trout below you. If,
on the other hand, he refuses the fly, do not attempt to recover the
line in the usual manner or you will inevitably be hung up. Simply
lower your rod point to the water, and then the quiet drag of the
stream will bring your cast and fly slowly up and over the fence, even
although the fly had floated a foot or two down-stream and under the
wire. The action is so slow and even that there is no chance of being
entangled in the wires, and as a fish in such a position thinks he
is in possession of a vantage-point, and is seldom fished for, he is
generally a bold feeder. Having explained the method, my friend made me
try the cast myself, and the first fly floating near enough to tempt
the fish was taken boldly; the whole manoeuvre succeeded, and I was
able to land my trout below me. Since then I have frequently made use
of my experience, and with invariable success. If any anglers who are
not aware of this method care to try the experiment they will see how
sweetly the line travels over the fence without the slightest risk of
entanglement.

There is but little doubt that the fly that is kept going catches most
fish. On a seemingly hopeless day an odd fish here and there can be
picked up if really sought for; and on these days the rise, if any, is
so inconstant and so short-lived that it may easily be missed. On such
a day, on the wide shallows of the Longparish water of the Test, three
of us were struggling with the adverse conditions of a lowish river, a
bright sun, and a great lack of duns. We had agreed to meet at luncheon
at about 1 p.m. in the hut on the river's bank. I had found a seat upon
the upturned stump of a tree in mid-stream. There were fish all round
me in the shallows, but all on the bottom, apparently asleep. I knew
that if I left my place and waded ashore I should move them all. I was
enjoying my pipe, and so sat on. The whistles and calls from the hut
passed unheeded, for I had noticed that my friends the trout showed
more signs of animation. An olive or two came down, and gradually the
fish seemed to rise from the bottom and take up their positions. More
calls from the shore. I shouted back to them not to wait, and at length
they gave me up as a bad job.

Soon a fish on my left front took an obvious olive, a pale one, and I
had a pale olive on my cast. Still I waited, and soon the first few
olives were followed by quite a little procession. I then cast over my
fish, and at the first offer he took it. I got him down below me, and
soon netted him out, wading up again most carefully and slowly to my
seat; and from that position, in about twenty minutes, got seven fish
in succession, all taken with the same fly and from the same spot.
They were none of them very big, it is true, but they were all over a
pound in weight. By this time my friends had finished their luncheon,
and came out of the hut just as I was netting my seventh fish. Hastily
getting their rods, they were just in time to get a fish apiece from
the bankside, and the rise was over. Moreover, it was the only rise
vouchsafed to us that morning or afternoon. So that the moral is that
you can never tell when the psychological moment may arrive, and may
easily miss it when it does come if you are lying on your back reading
a novel, or with your eyes anywhere but on the water. One must lunch,
no doubt, but it can generally be best enjoyed in the outer air, where
you can watch the water and the fish whilst enjoying your luncheon and
your rest. And on such inauspicious days do not relax your precautions
in approaching the water, or from nonchalance or weariness allow
yourself to cast carelessly. Your field glasses will often reveal to
you a more likely fish--at the tail of the weed, maybe, or under the
thorn bush on the opposite bank--and it may be worth while to float a
fly over him and give him a trial. If he accepts the offer he is worth
to you several got out under more favourable conditions.

When fish are really smutting, and the water is almost boiling with
rises, the angler's patience is most sorely tried. Nothing seems to
tempt them; the smallest gnats ever tied are far too big. Who will
tell us what to do in such a case? In truth, I know not. All I can say
is that they are in a peculiarly aggravating humour. How vexatious,
too, are the tailing fish, boring their heads into the weeds and
breaking the water with their broad tails--and their tails always look
particularly broad at such times. I have at times caught them with a
big alder, fished wet, and jerked past them when they have finished
for the moment their diving operations, and their heads are up. It is
chance work, and, if not productive of much use of the landing-net,
will serve to pass the time and amuse you; for if you don't succeed in
hooking many you will certainly get an occasional one to run at your
fly, his back fin breaking the water and making as big a wave as if
he were twice the size. In the quick water by the hatch holes on such
a day you may find a rising fish, though when hooked he will probably
prove unsizeable.

Never despair or give it up, unless you are one of the fortunate
individuals who live by their water side, and who can therefore pick
and choose. Where all days are yours it would be folly to persevere on
really bad ones; but most of us are not so favourably situated, and we
have to make the most of the odd chances we get. Therefore my counsel
is to examine and watch the water, and be ever on the alert.

Where Sunday fishing is not permitted, the day of rest always seems
to be the best angling day of the week, and you are tempted to be
annoyed and objurgate Dame Fortune. Even then, if you are a wise man,
you can turn such a day to your advantage by stalking up the water as
carefully as if you were fishing, and by making mental notes that will
very materially assist you on the following day. And if Sunday fishing
is allowed, do not give umbrage to many of the parishioners going to
church by making a parade of your waders and fishing rod. Either get
to your water before church time or else wait till the church bells
are over before you walk along the village street. Busy City men get
scant leisure for sport, and may fairly be excused for utilising their
week-end holiday to the full. Much latitude may be allowed to them in
this respect, provided they are careful not to outrage the religious
feelings of others. A walk along the river bank, enjoying and drinking
in to the full the beauties of Nature and of God's creation, may be as
productive of good to yourself as an indifferent sermon. It depends
upon your temperament and the power that the beauties of Nature have
over your mind. They can preach as eloquent a sermon as was ever
delivered from the pulpit, and may produce in you a frame of mind that
may be of real and lasting benefit to you. No man should be judged
hastily by narrow-minded bigots, or be termed a Sabbath-breaker for so
acting.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IV.

EDUCATION OF THE SOUTH-COUNTRY TROUT.


SURELY angling with the dry fly can be claimed as the highest branch
of the gentle craft? It cannot be doubted that those who have once
experienced the fascination of "spotting" and stalking a well-fed
and highly-educated south-country trout are bitten for life, and
are, especially at first, rendered somewhat unappreciative of the
sister art. The best fisherman is he who can best adapt himself to
his environment and is ready to adopt the method most likely to be
successful on the water he happens to be fishing. But undoubtedly
dry-fishing labours under one serious disadvantage that does not affect
the wet-fly fisherman, namely, the much dreaded drag, so sadly familiar
to those who fish the rise with the floating fly. Who is there,
however, who has not experienced legitimate pride and pleasure when, by
change of position or by deft casting, its baleful effects have been
overcome and discounted?

It is not given to everyone to command the sleight of hand of a master
and to be able at will to pitch a fly, cocked and floating exactly
right, whilst a bag of the line has been simultaneously sent up stream,
so that for a short few moments whilst passing over the fateful spot
the fly may float truly with the stream, out of the influence of the
more rapid water between the fish and the fisherman. In streams where
wading is allowed the fisherman has undoubtedly an advantage, as he
can get more directly behind the fish, and so avoid the heavy current.
But wading is not always feasible in waters such as those of the lower
Test, where the depth of the stream precludes it. Even then, skill and
local knowledge will often overcome the difficulty, and a fish in such
a position usually falls a ready victim to the fly that floats truly,
as he has been lulled into a sense of false security by his previous
experience that dangerous flies leave a trailing mark behind them. But
what a revelation it is of the education that trout have received, and
how capable they are of absorbing and profiting by it! It seems almost
as if the constant catching and destruction of the freest rising fish
must be having effect in leaving those only to propagate their species
which are either past masters in cunning or which are more coarsely
organised fish, that devote their time and energies to bottom feeding
and avoid surface feeding, except, possibly, at night; the universally
acknowledged fact that fish are far more difficult to catch than they
formerly were may thus be explained. Certainly, nowadays, an angler
would be somewhat out of it who tried to emulate the far-famed Colonel
Hawker, of Long Parish, and to catch the wily trout in that beautiful
stretch of the Test while fishing off a horse's back. Nor could any
modern angler hope or expect to approach the baskets that were formerly
creeled. So is it everywhere. On the beautiful Driffield Beck, in
Yorkshire, a paradise for the dry-fly angler, the club limit of ten
brace of sizeable fish in one day used to be constantly attained, and
that, too, with the wet fly up or even down stream. Now, with split
cane rods, the finest gut, and the deftest of floating duns, five or
six brace is about the best basket obtainable by experienced and most
skilful anglers.

[Illustration: BRINGING HIM DOWN TO THE NET.]

The natural question that perplexes and worries chalk-stream anglers is
whether this "advanced" education of brook and river trout is to go on
increasing. If we can only hope to catch half the amount of fish our
progenitors did, what are the prospects of the next generation? Shall
we have to fall back on black bass or rainbow trout to secure a race
of free-rising fish? Or does the fault lie in over-cutting of weeds
and bad river farming? I am inclined to think it does. Riverside mills
are in an almost hopeless position commercially. The miller requires a
heavier head of water than formerly, and with a decaying industry it is
hard to refuse him, the result being that to maintain his head of water
the weeds are ruthlessly and unscientifically cut over vast stretches
of water, shallows are bared, and the holts or refuges of trout are
done away with, and as a natural consequence trout become less
confiding and far more easily alarmed. Modern agricultural drainage
has, moreover, increased the difficulty by carrying off the water
too rapidly. It behoves votaries of the gentle art to consider most
carefully whether anything can be done to remedy the seriousness of the
future outlook, and to disseminate the results of their inquiry; and if
the Fly Fishers' Club, or some well-known leaders of repute, would take
the matter up and tackle it seriously they would earn the blessings of
the angling world.

It is considered to be undoubtedly a disadvantage in a club water to
include one or two pre-eminently brilliant anglers, as it seems to
breed a fear of their always being able to catch the easy fish, so
that the more difficult ones only are left for the ordinary angler to
attack. Not long ago I was invited to fish a certain well-known beat on
the Itchen, but my host, in inviting me, said, "I don't know if it is
much use, for So-and-So fishes our water, and has caught all the easy
fish." This may be true in a sense, but favourite positions are always
re-taken by other fish if the former occupant is killed. Just as a
house in Grosvenor Square, or some well-known centre of fashion, will
always secure a tenant, so a position where the trend of the current
brings the flies quietly and steadily over a fish will never remain
unoccupied. It is not so much the fish that is easy as his position,
and therefore the ordinary duffer need never despond. One thing is
certain--that the brilliant angler will never scare fish unnecessarily,
and I would rather fish behind such an one than a so-called angler who,
having successfully put his fish down by bad angling, proceeds to stand
upright and possibly walk along the bankside close to the water's edge,
scaring many a fish on his way up, utterly regardless of his brother
anglers. Indeed, in this respect I think the etiquette of angling is
hardly sufficiently considered in these modern days. Who is there that
has not met, on club waters, the ardent and unsuccessful angler who
wanders up and down, covering vast stretches of water, and effectually
scaring many otherwise takeable fish, in the vain hope that he may
find some purblind trout idiotic enough to take his proffered fly? I
consider that unwritten etiquette demands that the utmost care should
be taken by fishermen to do all in their power to prevent spoiling the
sport of those who may be following. I can well recollect a day when
the wind was foul, and there was one stretch of water sheltered on
the windward side by a thick belt of trees, and in this stretch were
located many heavy fish. Working up to that water, I found an ardent
ignoramus doing "sentry-go" up and down the stream, walking on the very
edge of the water. I presume he thought that if he only persevered he
would eventually find the "fool of the family," but the result--the
inevitable result--was that the fish were scared throughout that whole
length for the rest of that day, as that stretch was bare and sadly
lacking in shelter.

In considering the merits and demerits of dry-fly fishing, one
cannot be altogether blind to the fact that down-stream fishing must
inevitably prick and therefore educate many more fish than the floating
fly. This being so, it is still more inexplicable that in former days,
in chalk-stream waters, our forerunners were able to account for far
heavier baskets of trout than we are, despite the heavy restocking
our streams now receive, to their great advantage; and we necessarily
come back to the old point, what can we do to secure an adequacy of
free-rising fish? Is our system of fishing the rise wrong? Or does the
mischief lie more in our river, water, and weed management? And can we
so improve these as to obtain the desired results? Angling is now so
much sought after, chalk-stream and other similar waters command such
high rents, that surely it is worth the while of those interested in
the sport to initiate and carry through some exhaustive inquiry into
the subject.



CHAPTER V.

THE MAY FLY.


THE May fly is up! Every year, about the first week in June, telegrams
to this effect are hurriedly despatched to those favoured few who own
or rent water where this member of the _ephemeridæ_ disports himself.
It used to be called the May fly Carnival. There are, however, grave
disadvantages in connection with our friend that greatly discount the
apparent advantages. Fish gorged with this luscious food are wont to
try a course of semi-starvation after their over-indulgence, and for a
long time will not look at smaller and more wholesome diet. Then, to
my thinking, a May fly is a horrible thing to cast with. It is not at
all like casting with the more delicate duns or quill gnats. There is a
clumsy feeling about it; it is exceedingly difficult to dry, and if you
catch a fish a change of fly is at once necessary, the old chawed-up
imitation being rendered useless. It is also not easy to get exactly
the right pattern to suit, though for choice the small dark-winged May
fly has given me the best results. It is, unless you live near your
water, very difficult to hit off the precise day--you are always too
early or too late; you are told "You should have been there yesterday;
there was a grand rise of fly, and the fish were simply mad after them,
and no one was on the water"--and so on. Cheery news, no doubt, when
you find the fish all lying near the bottom. When they really are on,
there is excitement enough; mad splashes all round you, frequently made
by the smaller fish. Your proffered imitation may produce a rise or
two, but somehow or other the fish don't take hold as you think they
ought. You are inclined to lose your calmness of mental balance, to
cast without sufficient care and with a half-dried fly. In desperation
you put on a fair-sized red quill, fish more carefully, and probably
get better results.

The main charm, however, lies in the fact that the advent of _Ephemera
Danica_ does bring up the big fish of the water in a way that no other
fly food does or can. Hence its popularity, and in waters where the
May fly is hatched in quantity, and there are heavy, big fish that as
a rule find cannibalism pay better than duns, then the May fly has a
real value. In other waters, however, were these big monsters taken out
in order to secure a larger numerical stock of comparatively small but
sizeable fish, I would have none of it; I would prefer to extend my
angling season rather than take a large bulk of it condensed into one
week of questionable pleasure.

Certainly, the May fly season comes at about the best time of the year
to enjoy angling. A fine week about the commencement of June is most
enjoyable on any river. All nature is at its best--leafy June, when
sauntering by the riverside, even with scanty sport, is in itself a
pleasure not to be despised.

Mr. Sidney Buxton, in his admirable "Fishing and Shooting," graphically
describes a day in the Carnival time, when he grassed thirty fish
from two pounds down, and of another when he creeled forty; but, good
sportsman as he is, I rather fancy he would have enjoyed even more a
day with half to a third of the basket when each fish had been stalked
and picked out with a small fly. Not for a moment would I suggest or
imply that equal care is not needed in casting with the May fly if
you wish to fill your creel; but, all said and done, a bungling cast
will often secure a good fish with that lure which would inevitably
have put him down and scared him had he been feeding upon the ordinary
flies. It is very noticeable nowadays how capricious the rise is.
Indiscriminate weed cutting has almost entirely eradicated the May fly
from some waters, and quite entirely on others--a boon to some minds,
my own included, but a boon that bears sour fruit in other ways, for
irregular and injudicious weed-cutting hits other fly food hard. It is
curious, also, that in places where more judicious weed farming has
been resorted to of late the May fly has begun to return, patchily and
scantily enough, but nevertheless in increasing quantities every year.
I would fain leave them to hatch out upon the Kennet and the Colne and
similar waters, and leave our bonnie streams alone, but here there is
no choice; if they come, they come, and we must make the best of them.

A big rise of May fly is indeed a wonderful sight, the drakes flopping
into your face, covering everything, seeming almost like a plague of
locusts. Fat, luscious insects, enjoying to the full their brief spell
of winged life, after having spent months in the larval state. See that
one floating down-stream, airing and drying his wings, floating on his
nymphal envelope. He is floating dangerously near that trout that has
already annexed a goodly number of his fellows. Will he be taken too?
No; he flutters off, clumsily enough, making for the shore, only to be
swallowed by a hungry chaffinch. So his brief period of air life is
over. And what a feast he and his congeners provide for the swallows,
the finches, and other birds. Towards sunset, males and females of the
green drake tribe float and flutter about in the air, make love and
pair, then the female deposits her eggs on the water, and at last both
fall on the river with outspread wings, forming what we call the spent
gnat.

The trout take heavy toll of the nymphæ rising upwards before they
reach the water surface, and will not then look at a floating
imitation; and when the act of reproduction is completed they feed
greedily upon the empty shucks and the spent gnats. Altogether, our
friend the May fly seems to spend a hazardous and somewhat inglorious
life. Could he but see himself in his larval state, I feel sure he
would lose his self-respect. He is then no beauty, and to grovel and
lie low in the mud at the bed of the river for, as some say, two years,
cannot form a very exciting kind of life; whilst if he escapes in
the imago state, countless enemies lie in wait for him, and his very
love-making costs him his life.

The return of the May fly to a certain well-known chalk stream in
Yorkshire seems to be an accomplished fact, though one not altogether
to the satisfaction of the members of the club that fish its waters.
This stream, known as the Driffield Beck, ranks high amongst kindred
waters, the dry fly reigns supreme, the stream is as swift and even,
the water as crystal clear, and the trout as fully educated as those
of their brothers of the Itchen or Test. In former times the May fly
hatched in countless numbers on this stream, and the Carnival used in
those days to be reserved strictly for the members of the club; but
whether it were attributable to over-cutting of the weeds, or to some
other cause, the May fly died away entirely from the stream, and for
many a season not a fly was hatched. We members of the club--a very
old one, by the way--rather congratulated ourselves on this change,
as, instead of gorged fish who would not look at a dun for weeks after
the May fly period, we were treated to an even rise at the small fly
throughout all the angling months. But two seasons before we had
noticed, to our surprise, the advent of a few May flies. I recollect
impaling one upon a hook and drifting it down cunningly over a good 2½
lb. fish who had taken up his position under a thorn bush on my side
of the river, and the scared bolt he made when it got to him and he
had had a good look at it was a thing to remember. And, in fact, the
few May flies which that year floated over fish in position made them
all bolt as if they had been shot. Then in the next season there was a
more considerable hatching of the fly, and in one spot in particular
a few fish were taken with the green drake. The third year we arrived
at the right time for the hatch, then a very local one on our stream;
but in that particular part of the river there was a rise of May fly
to satisfy the most gluttonous of those who love that form of angling.
But the curious thing was the way in which the fish treated the fly.
Every now and again the ½ lb. and ¾ lb. fish would take them boldly,
and here and there a fish of that size would settle down to a regular
feed, taking all within reach; but the heavier fish seemed to be
thoroughly disinclined to take them. The bolder young ones now and
again paid the penalty of their temerity, being consigned to the basket
if fully 11 inches in length, or returned to the water if, as was too
frequently the case, they were not sizeable. I do not pretend to any
great experience of May fly fishing, though I have been a devoted
dry-fly angler for many years; but I do not remember to have seen fish
act so capriciously in my previous experiences. The birds, however--the
warblers, chaffinches, &c.--were quite equal to the occasion, and took
heavy toll of the _ephemeridæ_. I particularly noticed what I never
remember to have seen before, _i.e._, a cock blackbird darting out of
the bushes at intervals to secure a fluttering _Ephemera Danica_, and
returning to his shelter to pick the luscious morsel to pieces at his
leisure.

My luck was not considerable; the rise of dun was insignificant, the
wind was simply abhorrent, and my baskets, naturally, were not as
heavy as I could have wished. The water was in perfect order, the fish
abundant, but sport indifferent. One day I went up one of the upper
feeding streams, where I had often, poor performer though I may be,
secured a really good basket of good fish. After rising and pricking
more than a dozen fish, all of which rose short, and turning over and
getting a short run out of a three-pounder which had permanently taken
up his position above a bridge by a garden-side under some sedges in
a difficult position--rendered more difficult by the violence of the
wind--I had to content myself with a poor brace of 1¼ pounders, going
home feeling regretfully that I had done that day a good deal in the
way of educating fish!

The last day of my visit (June 10) I had somewhat of a more interesting
experience. The wind was still high, though warmer, and, though no rain
fell, there was a feeling that rain was not far off. The report that
the May fly was up and in quantity had brought out a number of anglers,
and when I got to the water-side, armed with a box of May flies given
me by a prince among anglers, I found all the 'vantage spots (in the
small extent of the water where the fly hatched in any quantity) duly
occupied by an ardent angler ready for the fray. So I quietly gave that
game up and retired to a small island between two branches of the river
near the keeper's cottage. I had but a couple of hundred yards to fish,
while the ground where I was standing was sedge covered elbow-high with
charmingly and conveniently placed bushes here and there behind me,
ready to hitch up any fly that, in the backward cast, should be driven
by the wind into their embrace. The only chance was to keep up a kind
of steeple cast, as the stream was a fair width across. The charm of
the position, however, was that on the other side was a high bank with
a plantation on it, which shed a welcome shade over the bank fish on
that side. It was very difficult to locate a rise, but the stream was
even and there was no drag. Nor was it an easy matter to land a fish,
as the fringe of sedges was wide and thick, and the water deep; my
landing-net was also over-short--a bad fault--and caused me to lose
three good fish, one well over 2 lb. I spent nearly all the day on this
place, and managed to hook every fish I saw rise, and that was not a
great number, the rise of dun being so small and the wind blowing them
off the river almost as soon as they started on their swim down-stream.
However, I managed to land five fish, all on a 000 gold-ribbed hare's
ear, the best one 1 lb. 9 oz. and the smallest a little over a pound;
but as they were all in the pink of condition, and each fish was a
problem to get, I enjoyed the day far more than a more prolific one,
when the duns might be sailing steadily, the fish all in position, and
where catching them would be far more of a certainty, and where even a
duffer could not have failed to score.

Perhaps I may have been somewhat unfortunate in my May fly experiences,
and most anglers would be disinclined to agree with my faint
appreciation of this insect and of the sport he assists to produce.
Most of my friends speak of this form of angling in a totally different
strain, therefore, presumably, I must be wrong in my view. To me,
however, the May fly (as a means to an end) is of great value in
tempting up the bigger cannibal fish, but as an adjunct to sport, I am
inclined to consider him overrated.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VI.

THE EVENING RISE.


HAVING recorded my heterodox views about May fly fishing, I fear I
shall run counter to the opinions of many if I venture to state my
ideas relative to the evening rise. For my part I find it, in the main,
vanity and vexation of spirit.

Doubtless, in the hot days of July and August, when rivers appear,
under sultry conditions, to be almost tenantless, when after, say, 3
p.m., you may watch for all you are worth without seeing a dimple or
a rise, it is some consolation to go home for a little rest and an
early meal, intending to avail yourself of the evening chances with
a possible brace or so of fish to save, maybe, coming in clean. Eyes
tired with the glare of the water are grateful for the rest, and with
the proverbial hope rising freely in the angler's bosom, you mentally
reckon up the big captures you are going to make in the short time
afforded by the evening rise.

Refreshed in mind and body, you regain your favourite spot at 7 or 7.30
p.m., and the evening seems to promise well. It does not look as if
those cruel mists would begin to rise at sundown; there is little or
no wind; the hatch of fly throughout the day has been insignificant;
surely there must be a good rise this evening, everything seems to
foreshadow it. You take up your station and watch the water carefully,
especially the one or two spots near the opposite bank that you know
full well ought to be occupied by good fish. A few spinners hatch out
and dance merrily about; the gnats hover purposely up and down; an
odd dun sails down ignored, as far as the fish are concerned, and at
length, freeing himself from the water, gains the bank side. Surely
that was a rising fish by the bank of rushes yonder? But the shadow of
the rushes thrown by the lowered sun prevents you from locating him
exactly. It was a floppy rise, probably caused by some small fish.
Something must be done, for the time is short; so, letting out your
line to the required length, you despatch your olive to sail down the
bank of rushes. No response. Another trial provokes a rise, and you are
fast in the fish; but, as anticipated, he proves to be a half-pounder,
and, handling him gently, after having removed the fly, which was
provokingly well fixed in his tongue, you carefully hold him in the
water until he has regained his wind and recovered from his exhaustion.
Whilst so engaged you hear a heavy splash to your right. Hastily
glancing up, you cannot locate that rise either, but it is something
that they are beginning. No sedges have appeared, so you retain your
olive. A good quiet mid-stream boil above you attracts your attention.
That fellow means business, anyhow. Your olive, however, though deftly
offered, sails over his position unnoticed and despised. You change
to a bigger fly, a 00 red quill; the light is still good. He refuses
that equally, and whilst you are doubting whether to change or no, up
he comes again. What is he taking? Some small fly, no doubt, but none
that you can see. Try him with a hare's ear. You change, and whilst
you are tying on the fly you hear a succession of floppy rises below
you. You somewhat undecidedly give the trout one more chance, but
half-heartedly, as you want to get down to those other fish--result, a
bad cast, effectually putting down our friend.

[Illustration: THE SEDGE HOUR.]

The light is beginning to go, so you re-change to your bigger red
quill and try your luck with those below you. Fly after fly, carefully
placed, cocked and floating, produces but little result, one pounder
succumbing. You see he is not a big one, and give him scant grace,
meaning to get him into the net as soon as possible, and so bring him
in half done. The net somewhat too hurriedly shown him produces an
effort on his part, and he has weeded you. You spike your rod and try
hand-lining; he does not seem to yield, and you are impatient, and
resume your rod. Something must go; you have no time to lose. Suddenly
with a wriggle he extricates himself from the weed, to your infinite
astonishment, and he is then soon brought to book. But many precious
minutes have been wasted; the fly has got itself fixed in one of the
knots in your landing net. Never mind, break it off; you must get to
sterner business. So you take some few more minutes in threading the
eye of a small, dark sedge fly, as the fish by now must be at work
upon the larger flies. Flop! flop! on the opposite side, under the
shadow of the reeds. See that your fly is dry and cocks well; keep out
of sight--an absolute essential in evening fishing--and go for that
uppermost fish. That was a good rise; was it at your fly? It is hard
to see by the waning light. Evidently not. Try him again. This time he
rises well, and you are fast in him; but you struck too heavily; he was
a good fish, and you have left your fly in him, bad luck to it!

This time you have to make use of a match to enable you to thread the
eye, but after some fumbling struggles you at last succeed. One more
try. Pity you had not put on a somewhat stouter cast, but it is too
late now. You must be a bit more gentle with them; a slight turn of the
wrist is all you want. There is a good rise, just beyond mid-stream,
and a good cast just four inches above the rise. You can see your fly,
and also the neb of a good trout as he breaks the water to suck him in.
Now gently does it! He is hooked, and goes careering up stream to the
tune of the song of the reel. Steady him now; don't let him get into
the rushes. The light is fast going, and you are inclined to hurry him.
Better be cautious; his tail looked broad as he turned over that time;
he is fat and in lusty condition, and has no intention of surrendering
his life without a good struggle. Don't show him the net; that last run
must have settled him; he flops on the surface; he is gently led into
the mouth of the net, and is yours. Not so big as you fancied, by any
means; might be 1½ lb.; you put him down as well over 2 lb. He is well
hooked, and after taking the fly from his mouth you grip him well and
give his head a good hard tap against the handle of your landing net;
in so doing he slips from your grasp and nearly flops into the river.
Hurriedly you put yourself between him and the water and get hold of
him, making sure of him this time, and he goes into your bag. Is there
still light for one more? Hardly, and it is no pleasure when you cannot
see your fly.

You take up your rod again, and pass your hand down the line and cast.
Where is that fly? Caught up somewhere in your struggles with the
trout. It is engagingly fixed in your coat, about the small of your
back. So you lay your rod down again, take off your coat, and extricate
your fly with your knife at the cost of some of the cloth of your coat.
Pack up your things and trudge home somewhat annoyed with yourself
and thinking of the opportunities you had lost, and determining next
evening to have some points of gut attached to suitable flies in your
cap, ready for the fray--no more threading eyes under such adverse
conditions for you.

Next evening you repair to the place where you know the big trout
lie and are sure to rise well. Fully equipped in every detail, and
determined not to be induced to hurry, but to take things quietly and
composedly, you reach your station. What is that in the meadow over
there? A mist, by Jove! And soon the aforesaid mist begins to rise on
the water, most effectually stopping all hope of sport; so reluctantly
you leave the water side, a sadder and a wiser man, reflecting that the
evening rise is by no means the certainty you had fondly hoped.

Of course it is not always so. I recollect one evening on the Test,
when, after a hot day with scarce a semblance of a feeding fish, except
tailers, there was a grand evening rise, and on a big red quill I got
seven fish, almost from the same spot, in little over a quarter of an
hour; but these days are too infrequent to alter my stated opinion
that the evening rise is an overrated pleasure, and generally produces
vexation of spirit.

If you do fish in the evening hours, recollect that you must be just
as cautious in approaching fish as if it were broad daylight; that any
sign of drag will as effectually put a fish down as in the earlier
hours. Your fly must float and cock as jauntily as in the morning, but
you lose the chief charm of fishing the floating fly, namely, that
you cannot spot your fish in the water and watch their movements; you
have to cast at a rise, or where you imagine a rise to have been.
Use a small fly at first and then a little later change to a big red
quill, or, if the sedge flies are out, to a small dark sedge. You can
afford to have a point of stronger gut, for you will have often to
play a fish pretty hard, and they don't appear to be so gut shy as the
evening closes in. But as soon as you can no longer see your sedge fly
on the water, reel up. Fishing in the dark is no true sport, and it is
uncommonly near to poaching.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VII.

"JACK."


THE upper waters of the Bourne and Test flow through Hurstbourne, Lord
Portsmouth's beautiful park, and were tenanted until a few years ago by
portly trout of aldermanic weight and size. It was found, however, that
they proved too costly to be retained, as the toll they took of the
smaller fish was prodigious, and out of proportion to their value. They
were accordingly captured by degrees, and replaced by a more numerous
colony of smaller fish. It used to be a grand sight to watch the big
fellows lying in the quick water near the big stone bridge, or chasing
the pounders with angry rushes.

When I knew the water, some ten or twelve years ago, there were still a
few of these goodly-proportioned fish remaining. They were well-known,
and each one had his nickname. Thus one was known as "Jack"; he
almost invariably lay in a narrow outlet to a culvert that led the
surplus water from the pool above under the roadway into the pool
below the bridge. For the greater portion of its length the water ran
underground, emerging from the culvert some two or three yards from the
river. The ground on either side at the end of the culvert was fully
three feet above the water, the banks being nearly vertical, while
the stream at the culvert's mouth was only about a foot wide. In this
narrow gully or channel lay Jack, his nose being only a few inches from
the masonry. Any unwary footfall speedily dislodged him from his little
bay into the main stream, but by crawling up warily he could be seen
and admired.

Many had tried to secure him by fair fishing, but though once or twice
hooked he had so far got off scot free. Nor was his post an easy one to
attack; the water was, of course, gin-clear, very narrow, and also very
shallow. The slightest sign of gut--and he was off.

On a lovely summer morning--to be accurate, the 26th of June, 1893--my
dear old friend Harry Maxwell and I had fished up from the bee-hive,
past the cascade, and were nearing the bridge with rather more than
average success, and had decided to eat our luncheon on the bankside,
under the friendly shade of the bridge. It was, however, barely
half-past twelve--too early, we agreed, for lunch--so Maxwell went up a
little to fish the shallow above, and I elected to have a try for Jack,
as I had reconnoitred and found him to be occupying his accustomed
corner. As the river was rather low, and as bright as only a chalk
stream can be, I decided to break through my general rule and put on
two lengths of the finest drawn gut, feeling that in this instance any
natural gut, however fine, would be out of the question.

I was careful to draw the gut through a bunch of weed, to diminish the
glare; the Whitchurch dun was on the water, and its counterfeit had
already secured us some fair fish, but for some reason or other I was
impelled to select a small 000 pale watery dun, called the Driffield
dun, for my lure. After carefully testing my line and cast I waded out
into the heavy stream, opposite to and commanding the outlet of Jack's
bay.

Knowing that there was little hope of dropping my fly at the desired
spot without giving my friend a glimpse of the gut, after a preliminary
cast or two, to make sure of my distance, I sent off my fly on its
errand, intending to pitch it on the grass just above the culvert. The
first cast, fortunately, went right, and by a gentle tap or two on the
butt of my rod I dislodged the fly from the grass, and it fluttered
down airily in front of Master Jack, the fine gut never having touched
the water. No sooner had it done so than Jack had it. Fortunately
I did not strike too hard, as one is so liable to do under such
circumstances; just the requisite turn of the wrist and the small hook
went home.

Before I had time to realise fully what had happened the fish had
bolted from his holt into the main stream, a bag of unavoidable line
behind him as he charged straight towards me. On regaining touch with
him I found that the hook had still firm hold, and that Jack was
boring up for the bridge in the heavy water. Naturally, I had no idea
of allowing him to thread his way up through the arch, as I could ill
follow him there, so I had to keep up as steady and strong a strain as
I dared. He soon had enough of that fun, and down he came at express
speed past me, leaving me to get in my line by hand as best I could.
By good luck, I was able to get the slack reeled up whilst Jack was
careering about in the broader water below me. Hardly had I done so
when, at the end of his run, he gave a grand leap, after the fashion of
a sea trout; a dip of rod-point to his majesty saved a catastrophe, and
I now began to try to reach terra firma. My friend, however, was not
at all disposed to give me much time for such an operation, and just
as I was trying to regain the bank--a sufficiently ticklish operation
with a wild fish held only by the finest of drawn gut--he made a most
determined rush for the big bed of flags below the bridge. Once let him
attain that stronghold and I was fairly done; so I had once more to
test my gut, and resolutely to determine that he should obey my will.
Better be broke at once than lose him in that weed bed. Once more he
gave way, and I was able to regain the bank. At that moment Maxwell
turned up for luncheon, and the fish, now absolutely beaten, was
successfully netted out. I found that in his mad rushes and gyrations
he had managed to get two full turns of the gut round his gills. This
no doubt accounted for his coming to bank so speedily. He weighed just
over 3¼ lb.--no great monster after all, you may ejaculate, but he was
about the most perfect specimen of a trout I have ever seen, and was
in the pink of condition. He now graces my study in a glass case, the
only specimen of a fish that I have ever set up. But there was some
justification for this temporary mental aberration, and I often now
look at him and recall his sporting end, and the difficult conditions
under which I managed to capture him. He carries back my mind to the
fond recollections of my old friend, now no more, one of the best and
most unselfish of anglers, whose untimely loss has left a blank among
his many friends that cannot be filled.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VIII.

WEED CUTTING.


ALL dry fly anglers owe a deep grudge to modern sub-soil drainage,
which hurries, helter skelter, all the rain that falls into the
river, thus doing away with the former gentle soakage into the soil,
which served to feed our springs and keep up an even flow and an even
head of water. Now we have but alternations of flood and emptiness;
the millers, moreover, suffering from these alterations, and sadly
lacking water in most seasons, cry out loudly against any obstacle
in the river-bed; consequently the river weeds are ruthlessly and
unscientifically cut away. The weeds, the natural nurseries of
fish food, being thus reduced in quantity, the supply of food is
seriously compromised, holts for the fish are destroyed, bare areas
of river bed--on which moving one fish means possibly the moving of
scores--afford neither refuge nor shelter, and become practically
impossible to fish. All fish need shelter in the hot weather from the
summer sun, all need refuges to which to resort if scared; take these
away and the result must be deplorable.

Those amongst us who have had the privilege of fishing in waters
where the cutting of the weeds has been scientifically and wisely
performed will have realised the difference this point alone can make
to a fishery. All the details of weed and water-farming have been so
exhaustively treated by Mr. Halford in his various works on "Dry fly
fishing," that they need not be described here. No better mentor could
be chosen. But some of the chief points that ought to be had in mind
may be touched upon. The chief desiderata, where there is an ample
supply of weed, are, to put the matter very shortly, to cut in the
deeper parts of the river lanes along both banks some ten feet wide,
and in the shallower parts to cut bars or lanes across the water at
right angles to the banks. At the same time lanes should, also, be cut
parallel to the banks, to encourage the bank fish. Where weed is not
in abundance recourse must be had to artificial shelters, or hides,
under which the fish can obtain the shelter that they require. Stakes
driven into the river bed soon attract a clinging mass of floating
weed, the only drawback to their being used is that hooked fish may be
lost through their bolting for and round them. Piles driven into the
shallows afford a welcome rest to fish, and it will be found that a
trout will nearly always take up his position behind them. Similarly,
big stones placed in the shallows will have a beneficial effect.

The constant and irregular cutting of weeds has, moreover, a very
trying effect both upon the sport and the temper of an angler. Huge
masses of weed floating down, just at the moment when the hatch of fly,
so patiently waited for, is in full swing, and the fish in the mood
to take them, will sorely tax our powers of self-control. How often
has such a state of things extracted from us a "swear word"! These
very weeds may, nevertheless, be made to serve a useful purpose. There
is a fine fish lying a yard or so from the opposite bank; the stream
between us is heavy and quick; over the fish is an oily glide of water,
the pace of the stream being checked by friction with the river bank.
On this the duns float steadily, led by the stream into its embrace.
Our friend the trout knows this full well, and therefore persistently
takes up his station at that spot. We have often tried for him, but the
pace of the stream between us, stand where we will, has always beaten
us: no sooner has our well-cocked fly sailed into the head of the
glide than it is hurried across it, leaving a most unnatural trail, or
wake, behind it such as no living insect ever made. This trail of the
serpent, or "drag" as it is called, is one of the greatest difficulties
that we have to cope with in angling with the floating fly. It is,
like the poor, always with us. But the very weeds we have been so
persistently abusing may be brought into our service to overcome it.
Watch a mass of floating weed that is about to be carried over the
position of your fish, throw your fly so that the gut lies on the
advancing weed; the fly, with some inches of free gut, should rest upon
the water in front of the weed; the rest of your cast, being supported
by the weed, will be freed from the drag of the stream, and the fly
will float proudly over the fish. Unsuspecting he rises, sucks the fly
down in absolute confidence, and at last he is yours. Backwaters may
be overcome in a similar manner, and to this slight extent the curse
of the floating masses of weed may be converted into a real boon. This
slight advantage cannot be considered as counterbalancing the drawback
of indiscriminate weed cutting, it is merely an attempt to turn to our
use an otherwise unmitigated evil.

Proprietors of valuable fishing rights are strangely unappreciative of
the advantages of scientific weed cutting and weed growing; they seem
to be inclined to let matters take their course, and in consequence
suffer considerably, and until they realise what this carelessness
means to them things will be allowed to go on in the old groove.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IX.

THE ANGLER AND AMBIDEXTERITY.


IT has always been an enigma to me why, having been endowed by
Providence with two hands, we should knowingly and deliberately
minimise the boon. All ranks and conditions of men, be their
occupations what they may, are affected. The nerves, sinews, and powers
of our left hands are equally as efficient and valuable as those of our
right hands; or, more strictly speaking, would be so if we only gave
them half a chance. Who has not experienced the difficulty of folding
a tie, tying a knot, or even buttoning a collar or a boot, &c., when
the right hand has been temporarily incapacitated? And who, except
the ambidextrous man, would be bold enough to shave himself entirely
with the left hand? Injure a man's right hand, and you render him
practically useless. Of all the arts, music alone trains both hands
equally; in some trades, such as cotton weaving, spinning, &c., the
left hands do their proper share of the work.

Consider for a moment the amount of wastage there is in manual work
alone through this premeditated reduction of effective power! We
seem to be content, apparently, to halve our powers, and this for no
useful purpose whatever. The very children, who naturally would be
ambidextrous, are chidden and checked by their parents if, following a
natural instinct, they take up a pencil or a spoon in their left hands;
and so on through their school days, and even after, each and every
attempt to make a proper use of their left hand is sternly reproved,
until at last the poor unused and untaught left hands and arms become
of very secondary importance. Is there any phase of life in which
ambidexterity would not be a factor of the greatest value? Would it not
be a priceless boon equally to the soldier, the surgeon, the engineer,
the craftsman, the clerk, or the artisan? And does not the same apply
in the domain of sport? In shooting, would you not be at an advantage
if you could shoot equally from either shoulder? The fisherman--how
would it favour him? I unhesitatingly answer that it would aid him in
every branch of his sport.

What angler amongst us could tie a Turle knot, or even thread an eyed
fly, left-handed? We should fumble and fume, and probably give it up
in despair. To the dry-fly fisherman the advantage that would accrue
through equality of arms and hands would simply mean a duplication of
effective power. Think of the countless occasions when an overhanging
tree or obtrusive bush has rendered a right-hand cast difficult, if
not impossible. In one position in particular a left-hand cast is of
extreme value. It enables you to command the water under your own bank
without having recourse to an awkward and always precarious back-handed
cast.

You are carefully stalking your way up stream, the wind perhaps blowing
towards your own bank, the left bank of the river. About twenty yards
above you there is an overhanging tussock of grass with fringing blades
hanging over the stream. Near this tussock, or a little above it, you
note the dimple of a feeding trout; he is in a position where all the
duns are brought quietly sailing past his vantage post. A well-cocked
fly must inevitably secure him. You watch the duns one by one taken by
him; he is feeding steadily, and seems to be a good fish. To reach him
you have to cast with the right hand over the left shoulder. It is ten
to one that, if the length of cast is correct, the fly will be guided,
partly by the wind and partly by your arm, into the fringing grasses.
If it can be snatched off without scaring your trout, well and good;
but sooner or later, unless a particularly happy cast overcomes the
difficulty, you are bound to be hung up in the aforesaid tussock so
firmly as to necessitate a careful crawl to try and disengage your fly.
If you can free the fly without scaring the trout, well, you are so
far a lucky man. You either then recommence your struggle with adverse
circumstances, or more probably give him up as a bad job. Use your
left hand and arm, if you can, and the cast becomes a perfectly simple
one. Every dry-fly angler, moreover, knows full well how soon constant
casting and drying the fly tires and cramps the wrist and arm. What a
relief, then, to rest your right hand and give your left a chance.

Nature has a wonderful recuperative power, and will reassert herself
provided you allow her to do so. The reacquisition of normal left-hand
dexterity is by no means difficult; a little assiduous practice,
despite the first feeling of awkwardness, will soon encourage you
to persevere. Practise on the lawn at a saucer, and in varying
conditions of wind, before the season commences; you will not only gain
additional interest in your casting, but will have acquired an asset of
considerable value.

Not long ago, commenting upon what it was pleased to call the "latest
craze," viz., ambidexterity, an evening paper made merry over the
subject, and declared that there were enough awkward single-handed
men in the world without seeking to add an army of still more awkward
double-handed men. Such chaff may provoke a passing smile, but no chaff
will ever detract one iota from the value of double-handedness, and I
most strongly urge all anglers, old or young, to devote some little
time and attention to the acquirement of this most useful, though so
long neglected, bi-manual dexterity.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER X.

LOCH FISHING.


LOCH fishing for trout is carried on for the most part amidst glorious
and romantic scenery. There is a sense of repose in the drifting boat
and the rhythmical cast. As a means of recreation and enjoyment it has
a distinct place in the affections of many of its votaries, and that
they are numbered by thousands the records of Loch Leven will amply
testify. To the overworked man, to those who are debarred from active
pedestrian exercise, this method of angling has a peculiar charm. To
the thronging multitudes of big Scottish cities (such as Glasgow, for
instance) the frequent competitions upon Loch Lomond or Loch Ard offer
a change of scene and environment that is simply invaluable, whilst
the ozone imbibed in such surroundings acts as an antidote to the
smoke-laden air to which their lungs are ordinarily subjected.

[Illustration: A DRY FLY DAY ON LOCH ARD.]

But when all is said and done, to the ardent angler it forms but a
monotonous kind of enjoyment. There is something so mechanical in the
constant casting of your collar of three or four flies on the chance
that some fish may take one of them. The row across the loch, the drift
over the same ground, repeated constantly are apt to pall. Doubtless
skill will assert itself in the long run, and every Scottish or Irish
loch has its record breakers, men who can be relied upon to hold their
own against all comers; but the novice and the bungler will often
succeed where more experienced anglers fail. Perhaps the stream angler
is too apt to work his flies to the top of the water, whilst the
novice, perforce, lets them sink; and, as a rule, the deeper you sink
your flies, within reason, and the less you play them, the better.
There is yet one more drawback to loch fishing, and that is, that you
are entirely at the mercy of the wind--or, rather, of the want of wind.
A still, glassy surface, and your boat fisherman is done. May that not
be because he is wedded to his three or four flies fished wet? Let him
try a dry fly under such circumstances; not necessarily on the ordinary
banks he is wont to fish so sedulously, but rather in the bays and
creeks and shallowing water amongst the rushes.

On one occasion, about four years ago, I was in Perthshire, on the
side of Loch Ard--that sweet loch, more beautiful in some respects
than far-famed Loch Katrine. It was in early May. A big competition
from busy Glasgow had put fourteen boats upon the loch, and some
eight-and-twenty men were ready with double-handed and single-handed
rods to measure their skill against each other. It was a lovely day,
not a ripple upon the water. Ben Lomond's tops were reflected in the
glassy mirror, so that it was hard to tell which was the original and
which the mirrored counterfeit. For some hours these boats had, with
precise and repeated regularity, drifted across the best ground without
the semblance of a rise, only to be rowed round again to follow in the
same procession. There is no doubt that their occupants were sternly
in earnest, and would leave no chance untried. A faint catspaw of a
ripple might secure a rise, or perchance a fish, but catspaws were
few and far between. Hour after hour the rods were plied with stolid
monotony, responseless and unnoticed. And, as the day wore on to noon,
the conditions remained unvaried, and the catspaws even ceased to add a
temporary and evanescent interest.

About that time--noon--I, having nothing in particular to do, took one
of the gillies with me in a boat across the loch. He was astonished to
see me take a rod, and no doubt put me down as a mad-brained Sassenach.
Nevertheless I took my little cane-built Pope rod and a box of Test
flies I happened to have with me, and we pulled up the loch and into
one of the bays at the far end. There I bade him rest on his oars, as
we were slowly drifting along the scanty rushes that grew out of the
bed of the loch. I soon saw a fish or two move--at what I could not
make out--so, taking an oar and gently using it as a paddle, I moved
along until I could locate an exact rise, and I noticed a small fly
near where the rise had been. Using the blade of my oar as a ladle I
annexed the insect, and found it to be a small green beetle. In my box
I found a small Coch-y-bondhu, which had a red tag and a peacock herl
body. My scissors soon removed the red tag, and then I fancied it might
do as a coarse representation of the Simon Pure. Having tied it on, I
cast it dry at the ring of the next rise. It was instantly taken, and
a plump ¾ lb. Loch Leven trout was soon in the net. And so it went on;
a cast here or there at the rises amidst the rushes, and in a short
hour and a quarter seven good trout had paid the penalty. We then rowed
home for luncheon, and, on inquiry, I found afterwards that the united
efforts of some twenty-eight men, all as keen as mustard, had produced
three fish.

Does not this tell a tale of lost opportunities, and of the folly of
being wedded to one style of angling? Had there been a good fresh
breeze my dry fly would have been nowhere in competition with my
eight-and-twenty friends. The best fisherman is the best all-round
fisherman, able and willing to adapt himself to the circumstances in
which he may be placed. But how little of this dry-fly work is tried
upon our numerous lochs?--not a breath of wind, no good to fish! Yet
ripples here and there are breaking the surface, showing that the fish
are feeding.

Many pleasant half-hours have I had on the same loch, after dinner,
under the rising moon, at the season when the main object of life is
the grouse shooting. On a mid-August evening, after a hot day, the
loch looks deliciously cool. Let us try our luck after dinner. We
take our rods, and put up for choice a small gold-ribbed hare's ear.
Let us get into that bay, in our boat, with our backs to the shelving
shore and the moon before us. There is a good rise. Paddle gently, but
quickly, near it; judge your distance accurately, keeping your eye on
the very centre of the now expanded rings. You pitch it accurately, and
it floats like a cork. Don't hurry to take it off--loch fish cruise
about--he may see it. I thought so; a good rise and well hooked, and
the pound Loch Leven fish merrily runs out your line. Now you've turned
him. Don't let him get under the boat. He has run past you into the
shadows, as that splash fully indicated. You can't see your line, nor
where he is. Never mind, keep his head up, and, above all things,
keep him away from the boat until he is done. He fights well, but the
contest is a very one-sided one; he cannot beat you as his brother of
the river often can, and in due course he is netted.

Now dry your fly well; or, better still, put on that other hare's ear
you have already mounted upon a point of gut. We have rather disturbed
this water; let us move a bit further up the bank. The rises are
sadly infrequent, perhaps, but a brace of good fish taken under such
circumstances is worth catching, especially as the loch is generally
considered to be an early one, and the fishing to end in June for all
practical purposes. If only you will try it, this floating fly work
will add a very great interest to your enjoyment of your lovely loch.

Perhaps I may be treating this subject somewhat too cavalierly, and
unduly emphasising my own views and predilections. Certainly I am free
to admit that I have enjoyed many pleasant days on our Scottish lochs.
One particular day stands out pre-eminently in my recollections. I was
staying at a shooting lodge near Pitlochry, and the famous Loch Broom
was within the precincts of our moor. To reach it we had a longish walk
and stiff climb, as it lies on the far side of a high, saddle-backed
line of hills. There were three boats on the loch, and one of them
belonged to my host.

I was told that it was heavily stocked with good fish, but that a
strong breeze was necessary if good results were to be obtained. In
due course a gillie and I sallied forth one morning, somewhat late
in the season, armed with rods, tackle, and flies, to see what Loch
Broom would do for us. There certainly promised to be an ample supply
of wind to start with, and, as the day wore on, it had no tendency
whatever to go down, but rather to increase unduly; and when we reached
the loch side after our six or seven mile walk, we found miniature
foam-crested billows on its surface; in fact, rather more than we had
bargained for. The boat had been merely grounded in the rushes at the
loch side, and required baling out and adjusting. Intending to lose no
time, I speedily put up my rod and my cast of three flies and placed
it in the stern of the boat in order to soak the cast, then devoting
my attention to the assistance of the gillie, who was getting the
boat in readiness. Whilst I was doing so my reel began to screech, and
I found I had hooked a good trout, my cast of flies having apparently
been dancing over the wind-swept waves. It was certainly a good augury
of what was to come. After a good deal of trouble we got our boat
launched, and, though leaking a bit, it was in a floatable state. The
wind was too high to admit of a slow drift across the little loch, but
it did not much matter.

At every cast there were rises, not at one of the flies, but often at
all three--no skill was required. The fish were rampant, and would be
hooked. In fact, the main part of the fun lay in seeing how often one
could land two fish hooked simultaneously. We only made three drifts in
all, for it is easy to be surfeited with such sport. After our third
drift was finished and the boat was hauled up again into its place we
had leisure to count the slain; they were certainly very numerous. I
somewhat reluctantly transcribe the entry in my fishing diary lest the
tale may be set down as a "fisherman's story." They amounted in all to
ninety-two, and weighed between 40 and 50 lb. It certainly was a record
day for even that prolific loch. There is yet one more entry in the
same fishing log to the effect that the 15 odd pounds weight of trout
that I personally carried home that afternoon formed a considerable
addition to the labour of the walk over the hills and against the gale,
and that I frequently wished them at Jericho.

But you might go to Loch Broom on a still day and you would be almost
inclined to declare that it was untenanted, so fickle in their
behaviour are these selfsame trout.

There is a little loch--Loch Dhu--in Forfarshire, high up in the hollow
of the hills, tenanted by many little black trout, who refuse to be
beguiled by the artificial fly. I tried it once or twice whilst grouse
shooting at Rottal, but with the poorest results. One day, very early
in the morning, I was going up the hill with my rifle and glass in the
hope of getting a stalk at a red deer before our grouse drive began.
On my way up I passed within half to three-quarters of a mile of Loch
Dhu, and happened to notice a strange turmoil on its usually unruffled
surface. Bringing my glass to bear upon it, I discovered the cause. A
swarm of bees was crossing the loch, a few inches above the surface,
and apparently every one of the little black tenants of the water was
engaged in gymnastic attempts to secure some of the bees by leaping
bodily out of the water. The constant rising of the fish followed the
swarm accurately across the loch, and only ceased when it reached terra
firma. Then all again was silence and solitude. I certainly never tried
afterwards to catch them with a solitary bee as a lure, and I fear
that it would have required a whole swarm of artificial bees to arouse
sufficiently the predatory instincts of these particular fish.

There exists in Perthshire, on Ben Venue side, snugly ensconced in a
beautiful hollow below the lower tops, a lochan, or small loch, by
name Loch Tinkler--why so called this deponent knoweth not. Round
its heather-covered sides I have shot many a grouse, and enjoyed the
great pleasure of watching favourite setters and pointers--those
delightful companions of the now somewhat old-fashioned form of grouse
shooting--point and back, with unfailing accuracy. Hither I have not
infrequently resorted with my rod for an hour or so of fishing along
its shores. The loch is very irregular in shape, and has frequent
heather-clad promontories jutting out into its waters, which permit
the angler to cover the fish more effectually, and seldom have I gone
unrewarded. Of no great size or weight, a half-pounder being perhaps
above the average, the Loch Leven trout that tenant it attain wonderful
condition and brilliancy of colouring. They play well, and I should be
more than ungrateful were I not to record the pleasant hours I have
spent there. But, after all, a small loch such as this is, commanded as
it is for all practical purposes from the shore, hardly falls under the
category of loch fishing, a branch of angling which presupposes the use
of a boat.

Owing, no doubt, to my peculiar temperament, I fear that I am not
worthy of loch fishing proper. The thraldom of being confined for long
periods in a boat, the unvarying monotony of the cast, are apt to pall
upon me; and sooner or later, or, to be strictly accurate, sooner
rather than later, I long to be ashore again, even though it be only to
fish up a small Highland burn.

And perhaps I am not quite alone in this respect, for I note that my
friend who has given us those pleasant "Autumns in Argyleshire" asserts
(p. 182) that he would prefer "indifferent sport in a river or burn to
fishing the finest loch in the Highlands." So that if I err I do so in
the very best of company.

And this same burn fishing has always had a charm for me. It is passing
pleasant to wander with a small 9 ft. rod up the rocky bed, casting
your fly into that miniature salmon pool or into that quaint stickle,
whose larger stones shelter the little denizens of the stream, which,
for their size, fight like little demons, sportive, hungry, diminutive
specimens of the race that produces their bulky Test and Itchen
brethren. One makes one's way over the rocky bed, under the birches
and the rowan trees, watching the grouse, the black game, or maybe the
roe deer silently creeping up, at peace with all the world, just as
intent upon the capture of the little fellows as if they were salmon.
The creel soon fills if the day be at all suitable. Their rocky home
affords little enough of insect food, as their miniature forms testify;
but look at them closely; how perfect their form, how beautiful their
colouring.

A sandwich and a pipe give you all you require in the way of lunch; the
whole day is your own, to do as you like with. Freed from all care, you
are intent only on enjoying to the full the beauties of Nature that
so lavishly surround you. Such quiet, gentle sport cannot but have
a purifying and ennobling influence if you interpret aright all the
beauty of creation. And it may be that interpretation is not needed; it
is enough to _feel_ that one has a place in so fair a world.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XI.

DAPPING FOR TROUT.


THIS form of angling has been brought to a fine art in Ireland, and
on many Irish loughs, in the May fly season, the heaviest trout are
brought to book by means of the natural insect and the blow line. The
columns of the _Field_ newspaper testify every year to the efficacy of
dapping, and, without doubt, many a heavy fish that otherwise would
only live to prey upon its smaller brethren is thus accounted for.

We do not all of us have leisure or opportunity to test these Irish
waters, or this particular form of sport with the blow line; but many
of us come across deep, heavy runs of water, overhung with continuous
branches, where the heavy trout lie, unapproachable and unvanquished,
to become gross and even pike-like in the carnivorous and cannibalistic
form of life.

Such fish are well worth catching, if you can get them, and far better
out of the stream than in it. Wise in their own generation, they take
up their holt in places where casting is impossible with an ordinary
fly, and where, could you by any possibility get one out, your fly
would remain almost immovable in the sluggish deeps and overhung holes.
The problem is then presented to you as to how their capture can best
be effected. This is your opportunity for trying dapping; and although,
to my unorthodox mind, such fishing is parlously near akin to poaching,
yet the accomplishment of their capture is so eminently desirable that
the end fully justifies the means.

'Twas in the lower reaches of such a stream, not many miles from
Bassenthwaite Water, that a certain number of leviathan cannibals had
taken up their station. The stream was so tortuous and overhung that no
boat could be manoeuvred through it, and a carefully constructed raft,
with anchor astern, had been tried and come to signal grief, pitching
its unfortunate occupant unceremoniously into an unsolicited cold bath,
from which he emerged with some difficulty. We then decided that it was
impracticable for fishing purposes of the ordinary kind.

Walking home along this bush-covered length we could see the fish
clearly in its waters, calculate their weight, and wonder how their
natural fortifications could be sapped and overcome. We nicknamed all
the fish, so constant and regular were they in their places. One, an
ugly, ill-shapen fish, with a heavy head, was called "Bradlaugh";
another veteran, solemn and heavy, was dubbed "Gladstone"; a third,
more dashing and combative, we christened "Randolph Churchill." There
were about seven that we knew and named, and to the heaviest and
thickest of all we gave the name of "Lord Salisbury."

It was a constant source of interest to us, in going up and down the
stream, to note what our named friends were doing and how they were
faring. Notes were compared when we came in after fishing, and they
gradually became an integral portion of our life and party. One evening
I noticed "Randolph Churchill" greatly on the move, darting hither and
thither in quest of some article of food. Peering through the bushes, I
made out that he was taking something that was falling from the trees
and bushes above, but what that something was I could not precisely
make out. A poor bumble bee that had fallen into the stream was buzzing
about, trying to free himself from his watery toils, and floating
slowly over "Churchill"; the latter came up to look at the buzzer, and
then bolted as if he had been shot. Evidently that disturbed even his
equanimity. I had contemplated dapping with a palmer or Marlow buzz;
and I sat down to cogitate. I called to mind the incident, referred to
on page 50, of the bold rises of the trout in Loch Dhu at the swarm
of bees crossing its surface. Whilst trying to reconcile their action
with that of "Churchill" I was reclining on the grass, and happened to
espy a green grasshopper. That might do, thought I, and rising, with
the captured insect in my fingers, I again approached the water side.
The bumble bee had most effectually scared "Randolph," so I walked down
to where "Gladstone" had taken up his abode. Nipping the grasshopper
with my fingers so as to kill it, I managed to flick it over the bushes
towards my friend. It happened to light on the water at the proper
place, and I had the pleasure of watching "Gladstone" sail slowly and
majestically up to the floating insect, open a huge pink mouth, and
swallow it. That was quite good enough for me, and after dinner I
retailed to my friend my evening's experiences.

We were soon busily engaged in hunting up bare hooks and stiff rods.
Fortunately for us there were some long cane-bottom fishing rods in the
lodge, which evidently had been used in former times for bait fishing;
the joints were indifferent, the whippings rotten, but the rods were,
in the main, sound.

A little waxed thread and varnish soon put them into workable trim, and
before going to bed we pledged a parting glass that some of our friends
should gain a new experience on the morrow. And so it fell out. We knew
that playing fish in such overgrown haunts was out of the question,
and that if we had the luck to hook them it would be a question of
pull devil, pull baker. Towards evening we met at our trysting-place.
Green grasshoppers were numerous, so there was no lack of bait. As I
anticipated, "Randolph Churchill's" inquisitiveness and audacity caused
him to become our first victim. The bushes were far too thick to let
us drop our bait near him in the ordinary manner. Our only chance was
to roll the line round our rods, poke it through the bushes, unroll it
carefully, dangle it before his nose, and then, if we had the luck to
hook him, to give him no law, but to trust to our tackle and to hold on
like grim death.

The next victim that evening was "Bradlaugh," a bold riser, who fought
well, and who thoroughly justified his cognomen when on the bank.
"Disraeli" was for some time our master; he knew a trick or two, and
was by no means easily beguiled, though often pricked and once lightly
hooked. Even his caution was at length overcome, and hardly an evening
passed but that one or more of these, relatively speaking, monsters of
some 2½ to 5 lb. in weight was landed.

"Lord Salisbury," however, proved to be a very difficult nut to crack,
and beyond our powers of persuasion. He would solemnly inspect our
lure, sniff round it, as it were, and then sink slowly down to his
accustomed place. He seemed to know all about it, so, intent on other
sport with the gun, we at last let him severely alone, telling the
river keeper to get him out if he could.

One evening, as we were at dinner, there came a pressing message from
the keeper to be allowed to see us; so, on ordering him in, a smiling
rubicund visage appeared at the door, that of our friend the keeper,
bearing in his hands a dish, on which reposed the vast proportions
of "Lord Sallusberry," as he termed him, a tardy victim to the wiles
of patience, combined with the reiterated attractions of a green
grasshopper.

Possibly this kind of dapping may be deemed to be a poor kind of sport,
and, speaking from a strictly orthodox point of view, the accusation
cannot be denied. But, after all, it has its merits. It enables you,
in waters where there are no May flies, to seduce the heavy fish into
unwonted activity, and into taking surface flies. Thus you remove what
are little short of pests in a trout stream, and you gain an interest
in overcoming the difficulties of an otherwise impossible situation.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XII.

GRAYLING FISHING.


GRAYLING have one advantage over trout in that they extend your fishing
season by at least three months. Whereas trout may be called spring
and summer fish, grayling are autumn and winter fish. While trout
love positions under overhanging banks, or in the side runs by the
bank side, grayling, on the other hand, generally occupy positions in
mid-stream, lying near, or on, the bottom. In rivers that contain both
fish, a bank rise may be generally put down to a trout. I would have
substituted the word "confidently" for "generally," had not a very
competent critic placed a marginal note to my MS., stating that "he
would it were so."

I can well recall a day on lower Testwater when, in October, on a
wild, squally day, with gusty rain, I was endeavouring to beguile some
imprudent grayling into taking my fly. The river keeper accompanied
me, and together we descried a nice dimpling rise against the far
bank, above a plank bridge. I at once put it down as a trout, and was
for leaving it alone; but my keeper friend would not have it so, and
on persuasion I proffered the fish the fly that happened to be on my
line. As luck would have it the fly pitched fairly accurately, and,
nicely cocked, sailed down the bank side just where the rise had been.
A confident rise produced an equally confident turn of the wrist; our
friend was well hooked, and a merry five minutes we had before he
could be beguiled into the landing net. He proved to be a fine trout,
over 3 lb. in weight and in magnificent condition, but the month was
against us, and we had to replace him with all due care in his native
element before resuming our search for the grayling, who were not at
all inclined to favour us, on that occasion at any rate.

This particular fish certainly endorsed my view, for I felt confident
in my first opinion, viz., that it was the rise of a trout, and not
that of a grayling. The keeper, however, was equally confident until he
was proved wrong, and, as his experiences were a hundredfold greater
than mine, I would certainly not attempt to advance my own as against
his. It is so terribly easy to generalise from inadequate experience.

One thing I certainly have learned with regard to grayling fishing
with a hackle fly, fished wet and up stream, and that is, how easily
one may miss them through want of rapidity in the strike. I remember a
friend of mine dancing with laughter on the river bank as he watched me
miss rise after rise under such circumstances. I seemed to be always a
little after the fair. It was blind kind of work, casting at the rises,
the fish having to come up from the bottom to the fly, and somehow
or other they seemed always to take the wrong psychological moment
for their rise as far as I was concerned. Occasionally, of course, I
hooked what I fancied to be a silly idiot of a fish, and it was not
until my friend had a turn at them and then declared they were rising
disgracefully short that I was able to turn the laugh against him. When
I was angling it was always the fault of the angler that the fish were
not hooked; when his turn came it was entirely the fault of the fish.
At the same time it is undeniable that to secure grayling, especially
heavy ones, by this manner of angling requires great alertness, and, as
it were, sympathy of touch in hooking them.

I cannot pretend to any considerable experiences in grayling fishing,
but I do not agree with Mr. G. A. B. Dewar, who, in his "Book of
the Dry Fly," p. 54 (Lawrence & Bullen, 1897), states confidently
that angling for the grayling with the dry fly is "poor fun." On the
contrary, I have found him a bold riser, and a really free fighter
in his own style. He will take a dry fly in hot, bright weather,
though his real value comes in on frosty days, after the trout have
earned their well-deserved rest from the plague of artificial flies. A
grayling, moreover, is in his element in deep pools and quiet hollows,
where one would hardly expect to see the dimple of a rising trout. At
the same time the fish loves rapid streams and shallows, retiring for
rest to the deeper pools.

To be absolutely candid, I would always prefer to fish for trout
rather than to fish for grayling. This may possibly be through lack
of experience and opportunity; but no one can gainsay the fact that
grayling are in condition when trout are not, that they are a worthy
quarry and gamesome, despite (Brother) Cotton's condemnation of them as
"dead-hearted" fish. To be able to defer putting away one's favourite
rods until October, November, and even December have passed away is
no mean advantage, and I, for one, would be indeed sorry to decry the
grayling in any way whatever.

Grayling do not, as a rule, rise as freely as trout will do during
heavy rain, nor does muggy weather suit them; the best time for
grayling fishing in late autumn or early winter is from about twelve
to two, on a bright day, after a sharp and crisp frost. As they lie so
low in the water and have to come to the surface to take a fly, they
frequently miss their object, whether real or artificial; and after
they have taken the fly, or missed it, as the case may be, they dive
downwards to the bottom again, often breaking the water with their
forked tails in so doing. They are, therefore, more easy of approach
than trout, as there is a larger intervening amount of water to screen
you. As they take surface food, and yet lie so deep, their quaint
lozenge-shaped eyes have an upward turn. They are peculiarly gut shy,
and any undue coarseness in this respect or glistening glare in your
cast will effectually choke them off from their intended rise. They may
be taken by almost any of the ordinary surface flies, by a red tag, or
by means of many of the pale watery hackle flies fished wet. The depth
of the water in which they love to lie renders them less susceptible to
continued flogging than trout. Remember, if you hook a good grayling,
that the corners of his mouth are very tender compared with those of a
trout, and that, salmon-like, he takes a header downwards after taking
your fly, thus tending to hook himself; therefore the quickest and
gentlest of wrist turns is sufficient to cement the attachment between
you. And although grayling fishermen will not admit that the mouth of a
grayling is more tender, generally speaking, than that of a trout, it
is extraordinary how often the fly happens to attach itself to those
particularly tender spots. In playing him, this fact should not be
forgotten, nor the fact that the appearance of the landing net seems to
produce in him the wildest and most frantic efforts for freedom.

Grayling receive universal condemnation for poaching trout and salmon
ova, and it is only right to own that they are grave delinquents in
this respect. The unfortunate ova have, however, a multitude of enemies
in the shape of various water birds, ducks, swans, &c., and the toll
taken by the grayling in proportion cannot be so very heavy after
all, or they would not be permitted to continue to populate our south
country streams, where the trout is the chief object of worship. At any
rate, they have no other cannibal proclivities, which is more than can
be said for the noble trout himself, who is a marked sinner in both
respects.

Grayling will not thrive in all streams; they love alternate shallows
and deeps, and are particularly partial to quiet backwaters. They
are very migratory, and will frequently shift their quarters. The
character of the river appears to be all-important in their case, and
many streams suitable for trout will not hold grayling. But where the
surrounding circumstances are suitable, and the temperature of the
water is neither too cold nor too hot, it seems a pity that they should
not be given a trial. They spawn in April, and recover their condition
more rapidly than trout. I do not know whether the origin of these
fish in British waters has ever been ascertained. They may have been
brought to these islands by the monks in former time, who so carefully
husbanded all resources in the shape of fish food; but I have never
seen or read any authentic statement to this effect, and would prefer
to consider them as indigenous.

[Illustration]

[Illustration: LUNCHEON.]



CHAPTER XIII.

NOTES ON RAINBOW TROUT.


RAINBOWS are a comparatively recent importation into our native
waters, and appeared just at the time when they were most needed. It
is but a few years since our British waters, neglected, except in a
few instances, began to receive the attention they deserved, in view
of their intrinsic value. Steps were then taken to diminish, if not
entirely to remove, the terribly universal pollution of our streams
and rivers. From that time trout fishing prospects in river and stream
began to look up and improve; but our ponds and reservoirs, if stocked
with fish at all, contained only the coarse fish of former times. By
a happy coincidence the rainbow trout, which we owe to our cousins of
the United States, began to be talked about and known. Speedily our
fish-culturists took them up and established them in their hatcheries,
with the best results. A more sporting or gamer fish does not exist. He
rises most freely to the fly--up to a certain weight--and, when hooked,
plays as gamely as any sea trout. He grows with astonishing rapidity.
In our local waters, two-year-old fish, 8 in. long in February, have
grown to ¾ lb. fish and even to pounders in September. There is
therefore no excuse for leaving our ponds untenanted by these gamesome
fish. Moreover, their edible qualities are quite first-rate; they are
shapely, beautiful in colouring, and thrive in any kind of water. One
point, however, should be carefully guarded against. Rainbows are great
travellers; they will push up, especially before spawning, and it is
therefore necessary to confine them by a grid at the head and foot of
your water.

The spawning time for these fish in their natural habitat is rather
late in the spring; but, as might be expected from analogy, rainbows
bred and reared in this country appear to be adapting themselves to
their environment, and to be gradually assimilating their time for
spawning to that of our local trout. The bulk of rainbows spawn in
British waters about February and March, many retain their old times
of May and June, whilst a proportion have adapted themselves to their
surroundings and spawn as early as brook trout. I think that the date
is more or less influenced by the amount of fish food obtainable. Thus,
for instance, with hand-fed fish the old later dates are maintained;
but it is still doubtful, as far as my experience goes, as to whether
the ova of the fish that are dependent entirely upon natural food
is ever vivified. My fish undoubtedly have spawned on the prepared
beds, but, so far, I have not been able to establish any evidence
of matured fry. The edges of the water this summer were filled with
multitudinous small fry no doubt, but on careful inspection they proved
to be entirely the fry of sticklebacks, perch, &c. I have found hen
fish gravid with ova as early as November and as late as April. In
time, no doubt, their spawning season will coincide with that of our
brown trout. And herein lies a field for investigation and careful
watching. It is held in many quarters that rainbows do not breed in
Great Britain. My experience hardly tallies with this belief. On our
waters in Lancashire, where we had no gravel beds suitable for the
deposit of ova, I found late last year several hen fish, of from 1½ lb.
to 2 lb. in weight, dead in the water; they were full of ripe ova, and
had undoubtedly died through being egg-bound. I then made some spawning
redds suitable for the deposit and fertilisation of the ova, and it
has been highly interesting to see the fish elbowing each other to
secure a spot for themselves. Since then I have caught many spent fish,
both cock and hen, showing that the ova, at any rate, have been duly
deposited; but so far I have not been able to identify the fry. A large
quantity of fry of sorts I have secured this season, but they proved to
be the fry of stickleback. The "Trinity" two-year-old fish I restocked
with seem to be growing admirably. This form of rainbow trout have
the reputation of being, if possible, freer risers, quicker growers,
and harder fighters than the ordinary kind; so far they seem to act up
to their reputation. The few I have caught fought like little demons,
and it was almost difficult to be able to restore them to the water
and free the hook before they had been practically exhausted by their
frantic efforts for freedom.

The proper amount of fish with which to stock a given area of water
depends several circumstances. First and foremost, of course, it
depends upon the amount of fish food in it. Many pools and ponds are
full of fresh-water shrimps, snails, and the like, all of which are
of very great value in developing and fattening your fish. But as you
do not want to depend upon bottom feeding for their whole stock of
food, admirable adjunct though it may be, it is well to place round
the margins of your waters all plants that encourage the increase
of fly food. Beds of the ordinary watercress are not only valuable
in this respect, but afford welcome shelter. Water lilies, if kept
within bounds, are equally valuable, and it must never be forgotten
that, especially in shallow water, shelter from the summer sun is an
absolute necessity if you wish your stock to improve. Other aquatic
and semi-aquatic plants should also be utilised freely, such as marsh
marigolds, starworts, bulrushes, &c. Nor should it be forgotten
to plant alders and fringing willows here and there. All trout,
particularly rainbows, take an alder fly readily.

A certain area of water will not support more than a certain weight
of fish life. You can therefore either have that weight made up by a
large quantity of small fish or by a correspondingly smaller number of
larger fish. It is not prudent, therefore, to overstock. This question
has necessarily very considerable bearing upon your calculations. Nor
is it possible to fix arbitrarily any precise number of fish as being
capable of being supported by a given area of water; an examination of
the water itself would be needed to determine this with any degree of
accuracy.

Having, however, once determined upon the proper stock required--and,
in my opinion, it pays better to stock with two-year-old fish than
with yearlings--then an accurate account should be kept of the fish
taken out of the water each season, and a corresponding number should
be turned in each November for restocking, a few being added for
contingencies.

As I have already stated, when rainbows grow into really big fish--say
over 2½ lb.--they appear, in our British waters, to develop lazy,
bottom-feeding proclivities. It will be necessary, therefore, or at
any rate advisable, to take these fish out by using a bright salmon
fly, fished deep, or a minnow, fished as deep as the water will admit.
When the fish are first placed in their fresh home it is customary
to feed them with artificial food until they get accustomed to their
surroundings. For this purpose liver is often used, and it is quite an
amusing sight to see them "boil" when such food is distributed. It is
very doubtful whether it is wise to feed with such fat-producing foods.
Some authorities hold that fatty foods of any kind produce disease of
the liver and fatty degeneration, and condemn absolutely all red meat.
If this be so--and it appears to be not only probable, but proved by
expert experience--it is better to let the fish take care of themselves
and eschew all kinds of artificial food stuffs.

When stocking, every care should be taken to see that when the fish
arrive they are placed as soon as possible where the water is most
lively and broken, so that they may, at the earliest practicable
moment, obtain the air they so much need after their journey. The water
in the cans should never be allowed to stagnate. One more precaution
is indispensable, viz., to see, by means of a thermometer, that the
temperature of the water in the stream or pond is the same as that in
the cans. If there should be any difference--and there will almost
certainly be--it can easily be adjusted by letting some water out of
the cans and substituting that of the stream. By doing this gradually
the fish will become acclimatised to the change. The cans on the cart,
meanwhile, should be agitated, and therefore aerated, by keeping the
cart on the move. Neglect of this will cause serious risk of loss.
Once safely deposited in their new home, the fish will speedily spread
over your whole water, even if all were put in at one spot. Perhaps
it is unnecessary to add that fish should never be handled when being
put into the water. A small flat net will pick up any that may have
fallen on the ground during the change of water. It is surprising
how thoughtless many people are about handling and treating fish.
Thus, for instance, if an undersized fish is caught it is, in common
parlance, "thrown back," and is often in reality so treated. Too much
care cannot be taken in replacing fish. If put back gently and held for
a few seconds in a proper position, back up, they will soon recover
from their exhaustion and glide away unharmed; whereas, if "thrown
in," or dropped in in a careless manner, they will turn belly up, and
probably never recover.

When all precautions are taken, and your waters have been intelligently
treated, and suitable spawning redds are provided, you will never
regret having stocked with rainbows, for the sport you will obtain from
them will more than amply repay you for the trouble you may have taken.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XIV.

SALMON FISHING.


FORMERLY, and indeed not so very long ago, no one in the Highlands of
Scotland was considered free of the hill, or indeed of any account,
unless and until he had slain a stag, a salmon, and an eagle. Nowadays,
matters are somewhat different. The two former, inhabiting as they do
the forests and rivers, are in great request, and have a considerable
money value, and, in consequence, have passed into the hands of those
who have the deepest purses, saving and except where some few Highland
lairds and noblemen retain their ancient rights in their own hands, and
dispense their hospitality amongst their friends as of yore. As for
the golden eagle, few would attempt, or even wish, to shoot so noble a
bird. The ordinary forest fine of £500 is a sufficient deterrent, if,
indeed, any is necessary. Every effort is now being made, and should be
made, to keep the (now, alas! scarce) king of the birds amongst us.

But if, as we have said, the large majority of the forests and
salmon rivers are rented by those who are able and willing to pay
almost any price for the dignity of being lessees of such tempting
and highly-prized sporting grounds, the general appetite and desire
have developed and grown enormously. Ever-increasing facilities for
travelling have brought with them an ever-growing army of men, all
eager to get good salmon fishing, and searching high and low to secure
it. Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, British Columbia, and a host of
other portions of the globe have been brought into requisition in
order to satisfy some portion of this craving. Small wonder, then, that
rents for rivers, spring or autumn, continue to increase, and that
the Government of the day is being constantly and consistently urged
to increase the close time for net fishing, in order that the upper
riparian owners may have some chance of replenishing their pools.

A man who has once hooked and played a clean-run salmon, and has
experienced the thrill of excitement that continues from the rise until
the salmon is safely landed, is not at all likely to forget it, or to
miss any chance of renewing his acquaintance with _Salmo salar_.

The contest is such a fair one, there are so many chances in favour
of the fish, that no element of sport is wanting. He is so strong
in the water, so perfectly built for speed, that unless you handle
him both carefully and skilfully you may easily lose him, even if
you have brought him exhausted to the gaff. In that perilous moment,
when flopping and surging near the top of the water, how many a fish
effects his escape! And who is there amongst us but has experienced the
sickening feeling of the straightened rod, and the fly released from
the worn hold in the fish's mouth? It is just the uncertainty of the
sport, added to the strength and vigour of a hooked fish, that form the
great allurement to salmon anglers.

Whilst in trout fishing--more especially with the dry fly--great
accuracy and delicacy of cast are required, the actual fishing for
salmon with the fly makes no such demands upon the angler. Provided
that he can throw a tolerably straight line of reasonable length,
so as to cover the places in the pools where the salmon are wont to
rise, many faults that would entail failure with the dry fly will pass
unnoticed, owing to the fly having been cast into swiftly running
water, which brawling water straightens out in the kindest manner the
kinks formed in the line by the incompetency of the wielder of the rod.

To this extent, therefore, a novice may have the good fortune to beat
the more experienced hand. Once hooked, however, the novice is out
of it, unless he has at hand an experienced mentor, and the odds are
largely in favour of the fish. It is then that the accomplished angler
asserts himself. I have heard of men who consider that the excitement
of salmon fishing begins and ends with the hooking of the fish, who
are willing to hand over to their attendant, or gillie, the duty which
they consider to be monotonous and fatiguing--of playing the fish.

For my part, I look at the matter from an entirely different point of
view. The combat between the fisherman and the fish is essentially a
gallant one. In the water, a clean-run fish of, say, 18 lb. really
plays the angler for some space of time, and you recognise that
although your experience and intelligence may enable you, within a
reasonable time, to be the victor, yet that you have attached to you a
quarry well worthy of your skill, and one, moreover, who may yet call
forth all your activity and resource, and who cannot be accounted as
caught until he is absolutely on the grass beside you.

I, on the contrary, always consider that playing a salmon is the most
exciting and interesting part of the sport. In playing a fish, whether
it be a heavy trout on a light, single-handed rod, or a clean-run
active salmon on a proportionately suitable rod, a sense of touch is
needed that bears some resemblance to that necessary for the proper
handling of the reins in riding a keen young thoroughbred horse. You
require a keen appreciation of when to allow a certain latitude and
when to exercise all the pressure that the occasion demands.

A heavy-handed man will soon render a sensitive-mouthed young horse
half demented, whilst at the same time quiet, strong hands exert just
that influence that is needed to control his vagaries. Some men are
born with the requisite sensitiveness of touch, others will be clumsy
and heavy-handed to the end of their days. Some will give undue licence
to a fish, will allow him to play for an inordinate length of time,
triplicating thereby the risk of losing him.

It is not possible to lay down on paper any regulations for playing
fish beyond what may be termed the "A B C" of the game. You should
never allow your rod point to be dragged down below an angle of 45°
with the vertical, or a smash of your casting line will be risked. On
the other hand, if the rod be kept too vertical an unfair tax is placed
upon the strength of your middle joint. Another cardinal point, as
every angler knows, is that you should never allow more line off your
reel than you can avoid; that is to say, if your fish means running
either up or down stream, and you feel instinctively that it would be
neither prudent nor practicable to hold him too hard, then you must try
to keep on terms with him by means of your own movements on the bank
side; for it is to be presumed that, although you may have hooked your
fish when wading in mid-stream, you have taken the earliest opportunity
of wading ashore.

Keep nearly level with him, or down stream of him if you can, and get
the weight of the water acting against him as well as the weight of
the line. Never try to force a fish up a heavy stream unless such a
course is absolutely necessary, for the weight of the water, added
to that of the fish, may unduly strain your tackle. That you may be
compelled to try to prevent his going down stream at times goes without
saying, for it may be absolutely necessary to do so; but to endeavour
to force a fresh and strong fish up stream against his will is to court
disaster. Should you have decided that your fish, if it is to be killed
at all, must be kept in the pool in which he then is at all hazards,
by judiciously giving him his head, by means of taking off the strain,
may frequently induce him to abandon his attempt to force his way
down stream, and, under the impression that he has already gained his
freedom, he may often, of his own free will, head up stream once again.
It is a risky, but often the only, course to adopt, if you cannot or
will not follow a fish down.

Mr. Sidney Buxton, in that most charming of books, "Fishing and
Shooting" (John Murray, 1902), sums up the whole matter admirably when
he describes catching and playing salmon as "living moments."

I have seen stalwart soldiers, and I have one V.C. particularly
before my eyes at the moment of writing, covered with perspiration
and quivering in every limb after a long and successful duel with
a clean-run fish. In this respect salmon fishing is ahead of trout
fishing, for the contest is a more even one; though in my opinion the
two, being distinct and incomparable, ought never to be put into the
scales and weighed the one against the other.

Watch an old hand at the game, and observe how easily he controls the
most determined and vigorous rushes of his worthy antagonist; take out
your watch and see how long it will be before the 18 or 20 pounder is
brought alongside for the gaff; and then watch the poor performer,
hesitating and uncertain as to when pressure should be applied or
licence given; see how long it takes him to land the 8 lb. or 10 lb.
fish; count the number of times that he has to thank a beneficent
providence that he has not lost him; and if, after so doing, you still
incline to your statement that there is nothing in landing a fish, that
the whole pleasurable excitement is concentrated in hooking him, then
I can only reply that I don't agree. The contest between the hooked
salmon and the fisherman is no uneven one--witness the number of hooked
fish that escape--and it is one that is still capable of giving a
thrill of real excitement to those who really love angling.

A salmon hooked from a boat in a large loch is, of course, a different
matter; here the odds are so largely in favour of the rod holder as to
unduly diminish the chances of escape to the fish. Such salmon fishing
is outside the scope of our present argument, and falls into a totally
different category. With river-bank fishing, and it is with that that
we are dealing, it would be a bold fisherman indeed that would count a
fish hooked as a fish landed, and a half-hearted angler that would be
content to hand over to the gillie the cream of the contest between the
fish and the man.

_Apropos_ of this nervous excitement, in October, 1900, I formed one
of a shooting party on Don side. The river Don ran within half a mile
from the house, forming as perfect a series of natural pools as the
heart of man could desire. My mouth watered when I saw it, and I longed
to wet a line in it. I found, however, that my host not only loathed
fishing, but was absolutely devoted to bridge. We had but short days
out shooting, everyone rushing back to the lodge to get a rubber or
two before dinner. Professing ignorance of bridge, I begged my host
to let me try the river, as, having been lately fishing on the Dee, I
had my rods and waders with me. With a pitying smile he told me that I
could, of course, amuse myself as I thought best. With no loss of time
I made my way down to the river side, and found it in grand ply. I was
fully aware that the particular part of the Don that we were on was not
popularly supposed to contain many fish at that time of the year, but
it was well worth a trial, and I knew that a ship laden with lime had
lately been sunk at the mouth of the Dee, and I fancied and hoped that
some of the autumn fish might be finding their way into and up the Don.
The pools were so perfect in shape that no gillie was needed to point
me out the best rising-places; they spoke for themselves and told their
own tale.

My first evening produced two clean-run fish of 16½ lb. and 8 lb., and
my host, when he saw them later, began to think that, after all, there
might be something in angling. The second evening the river was up and
unfishable, but by the third evening it had fined down into order,
and I got a beauty of 20 lb. and a small salmon of 7½ lb. The glowing
accounts I gave of the play of these fish at length excited my host,
and, even at the cost of his rubber of bridge, the next evening saw
him by my side, carefully fishing a leg of mutton pool near the house,
where I had seen and risen a fish the night before. I had to hold the
rod with him and show him how to cast, but I knew pretty well where
my fish lay, and that he was within easy reach. We worked down to the
spot, and, sure enough, up he came with a grand head and tail rise,
hooking himself handsomely. Leaving the rod in my friend's hands, I
told him that he had to do the rest. The first rush nearly pulled the
rod down to the water level, my friend hanging on like grim death.
Fortunately, the gut was sound and stood the strain. Nearly dying with
laughter at his frantic appeals for help and advice, I shouted to him
to keep his rod point up, thoroughly enjoying the fact that he was
having a taste of what he had characterised as a "poor and tame kind of
sport."

As I particularly wanted him to catch that fish I went to his
assistance. Trembling with excitement and bathed in perspiration, he
was, shortly afterwards, delightedly examining his first salmon, a
clean-run hen fish of 16 lb. I never shall forget his shake of the hand
and his exclamation, "By Jupiter! you have taught me something, this
is worth living for!" Needless to say, he is now mad keen on salmon
angling, and a very capable performer to boot.

Many of us, however, not quite so young as we were, are paying the
penalty of imprudent wading in the times when we scorned to put on
wading trousers. The rheumatic twinges, that hesitation about deep
wading in rivers with bad bottoms, all these are largely bred of our
former contempt for getting wet, and our ill-founded confidence in our
powers of resisting the effects of such very minor matters as wet legs
and feet. We therefore find our choice of fishing water still more
limited: we seek fishings where many of the pools can be commanded from
the bank side, or where, if wading be unavoidable, the bottom is sound
and shelving, and where there are no round slippery stones to trip us
up. Enough for most of us, if we are lucky enough to get into touch
with a good fish, is it that we may have a longish travel over very
rough ground, up and down, before we can call him ours.

[Illustration: NEARING THE END.]

One particularly bad-bottomed pool I remember very well in the
Aberdeenshire Dee, not very far below Aboyne. It was a long pool, the
head of water very heavy, the wading throughout simply vile. At the
bottom of the pool was a big rock, nearly in mid-stream, and by that
stone there generally lay a good fish. To reach him you had to wade
as deep as your waders would permit, your elbows almost in the water,
leaning your body against the swirl of the stream, and taking cautious
steps forward, inch by inch, to avoid being tripped up by the slippery
big round stones. Then the best cast you were able to produce with your
18 ft. Castleconnel would just about reach him. I never could resist
trying for him, though I knew he would go down stream if hooked, and it
seemed impossible to follow him down, so I always half wished that he
might not come. Wading back against that heavy stream, with a twenty or
thirty pounder making tracks round the corner into the next pool, would
have been no easy job; and, if you had succeeded in reaching terra
firma, there were some big overhanging trees at the corner, beneath
which the current had cut a deep hole. Mercifully for me, though I
often tried for him, he never did take hold, though I rose him several
times. It was always with a chastened spirit of thankfulness that I
gave him up and went further down to try the easier waters of the Boat
pool.

There is a local story of a mighty fish, hooked in that self-same spot,
which took its captor down so that he was obliged, perforce, to swim
the deep water under the trees, and was afterwards taken down, as hard
as he could run, through pool after pool, until at length he managed
to steady it in the third pool of the next fishing water. Then, after
a period of sulks, during which both regained their wind, the fish ran
right away up again to his old haunts, where he succeeded in getting
rid of the hook against his favourite rock. All lost fish are big,
and the lapse of time has not in any way diminished his fabled weight.

Perhaps the one drawback to salmon fishing as an art is that to which
I have already alluded, viz., that the friendly stream corrects of
itself all, or nearly all, errors of slovenly casting, and in that
respect places the duffer more on a par with the really competent. On
the other hand, knowledge and experience, and perhaps more particularly
local experience, will assert itself in the long run, even against the
adventitious success of the novice.

The mere fact of having really fished a pool, whether success reward
your efforts or no, is of itself an element of enjoyment; the feeling
that you have fished, and fished with a really working fly every inch
of fishable water, is _per se_ a cause of satisfaction and pleasure.
Here you are master of the situation; on you depends your chance of
sport, if any is to be obtained.

In grouse driving you may draw the worst butt; or, if you have the luck
to draw the best, the birds may unaccountably take an unusual line,
and, though you may have drawn the "King's butt," nearly every bird may
pass over the heads of your comrades to the right and left of you. You
are, as it were, a mere automaton, to shoot whatever may come within
range; you may be the victim of circumstances, and may get very few
chances.

In hunting, unless you hunt the hounds yourself, you have little chance
of seeing, and none whatever of controlling, the best part of the game,
the working of the hounds. Your main object is to be with them; they
and the huntsman, or master, do the work, you are merely an accessory.

In fishing, whether it be for trout or salmon, everything from start to
finish rests with yourself; you have to work out your own salvation;
and I venture to assert that it is in consequence of this individual
responsibility that fishing, apart from its other many merits, holds so
high a place in all our affections.

I doubt whether there are many men who have not become aware, in
playing salmon (and perhaps more often when the fish is nearly played
out), of a second fish following the hooked one in all its movements
and stratagems to free itself from the unwelcome attachment of the rod
and line. It has several times happened to me personally, and on two
occasions that I can call to mind I was within an ace of being able to
gaff the free fish when bringing the exhausted and hooked fish past
me for the gaffing process. I feel confident that, had I not been too
much engaged in seeing that my hooked fish did not get free through
any unintentional slackening of my line at that most critical moment,
I could have done so successfully, so assiduous was the (apparently)
hen fish in attendance upon the fish at the end of my line. Is this a
mere matter of curiosity on his or her part, or may it be attributed
to a feeling of _camaraderie_ or friendship? I think no one can
seriously contend for the latter hypothesis, as instances of affection
between such cold-blooded animals as fish have never to my knowledge
been even suggested. We must therefore, I take it, assume that it
is mere curiosity, a desire to see why the hooked fish is acting so
capriciously; and, if this be so, has it not a tendency to modify
somewhat our views as to the necessity of resting pools after a fish
has disturbed them by his being played? The following fish will, of
course, have been taken out of the place where it would probably rise
at a fly, and, therefore, out of any danger for the time being; but
travelling fish are not infrequently hooked and landed.

My observations of salmon, such as they have been, have rather tended
to inspire me with the belief that salmon, when resting in a pool,
take little or no notice of what is going on round them. They will
move just so far aside as to let a rampant fish pass them, gliding
back into their former position the moment he has passed. How often,
when fish are really "on the job," have fishermen caught their four,
five, or even more fish out of one pool of very moderate dimensions,
every square yard of which must have been disturbed by the vagaries of
those caught before them? It seems to me that we are all inclined to be
a bit too cautious and careful in this respect. When the water is in
order, then I should be inclined to say, seize the happy moment, often
short-lived enough, and don't waste time in going to other pools as
long as you have any reason to suppose that the fish are "up," and that
there are other occupants of the pool that you are fishing that may be
grassed.

Somehow or other, if a fish be lightly hooked the information is
conveyed through the line, as through a telephone, to the wielder of
the rod. You obtain a kind of realisation that such is the case, no
matter how well you have endeavoured to drive the barb home. And his
subsequent play shows you how well-founded your feeling was. You are
in constant expectation of seeing your rod point come up--unwelcome
sight--and if you have the luck to get the gaff home, and the hook
drops out of his mouth, you are not one whit astonished, only thankful
that your luck for once was in the ascendant, and that you have not one
more to add to the very considerable number of fish hooked and lost.

In the same way with a fish that "jiggers," I, rightly or wrongly,
always set him down as being lightly hooked, and invariably offer up a
thanksgiving if he be safely brought to bank. Can anyone tell us why a
fish so acts? It is undoubtedly most disconcerting to the angler, and
must assuredly have a tendency to wear the hold of the hook. But if it
is so effectual, why do not more fish adopt it? Is it not permissible
to think that my hypothesis is right, and that a lightly-hooked fish
is able to appreciate that if he can only enlarge the hold of the
fly he may get free? Or, if this is too much to attribute to fish
intelligence, what other suggestion can be made? Of course, all my
argument is upset if my premise is unsound, that it is lightly-hooked
fish that employ the manoeuvre of "jiggering" to free themselves.

The question is, of course, difficult of solution; at the same time, I
have invariably found that it is just those fish that I have already
set down in my mind as being lightly hooked that have resorted to that
expedient.

I have always found it very advantageous to keep a good yard of free
casting line in my left hand, letting this slack go at the end of the
cast. This is exceedingly useful in getting out a long line; indeed,
it has become such a part of my nature that I invariably do the same
in dry-fly fishing for trout. In that case I find it helps me to pitch
my fly more lightly, and to correct my length; it has one drawback in
trout fishing, in that it prevents you from striking from the reel, but
it does not inconvenience me, for I merely turn the wrist in striking
a trout, so that the fact of my fingers gripping the line against
the rod does not matter. It may not be quite orthodox, but I find it
convenient, and always practise it; in fact, it is so much a matter of
second nature with me that I could not give it up, even if I wished
to do so. It is of great advantage, in fishing any pool, to have seen
the river in all its various stages, so as to know as much as possible
of its bed. As everyone knows, the places where fish rise vary as the
river may be high or low; one place where, in high water, you might
reckon on getting a rise if anywhere, would be absolutely unlikely when
the river is low; and so also in the intermediate stages. Until you
have become fully acquainted with the bed of the various pools, you are
not in a position to make the best of them; that is why a gillie with
local knowledge is so necessary. Perhaps you have fished a pool when
it was in perfect order. The next time you try it the river has sunk a
foot; it may still be fishable, but if you get a rise it will be almost
certainly in a different spot from the time before.

On the Awe, in Argyleshire, a few years ago, after a summer drought
the river had dwindled down to about half its normal volume. A rod had
been fishing very sedulously a favourite pool of mine called Arroch. I
watched him for some time, and at last suggested that I did not think
he was at all likely to get a fish in the tail of the pool, where he
was employing most of his energies. He replied that he had caught many
a fish in that very part. I told him that it was doubtless true when
the river was in proper order, but that it was most unlikely in its
then condition. Somewhat nettled, he asked me to show him where I would
propose to fish; and, having my rod with me, I commenced to fish at the
very top of the pool, in a narrow, deep neck. At about my fourth or
fifth cast with a very short line, I noticed below me the silvery glint
of a fish that my fly had evidently moved. Stepping back a little, I
began, with great deliberation, to fill and light a pipe, and then
began again where I had originally commenced. At my fourth cast I saw
the same glint, and also felt the fish, which had taken the fly when
it was well sunk and was swirling about in the quick and heavy stream.
It was, of course, a great piece of luck, yet it served to point my
moral and adorn my tale. My friend was good enough to say that it was a
revelation to him, that he would no more have thought of fishing that
neck of the pool than of flying.

It is astonishing how many anglers are similarly constituted. They
are content to fish a pool in just the same way, no matter what the
state of the river may be. They never seem to fish from their heads,
nor to bring any intelligence to bear. In a really big river it is
possible to pick up an odd fish in the most extraordinary places. Once
on the Carlogie water of the Dee, the river was in big flood, full of
snow-brue, and apparently hopeless to fish; but the grilse had begun
to run, and my time on the water was drawing to a close. Something
must be done; it seemed foolish to stop at home and waste a day, so I
walked up to the top of the Long Pool and fished my own bank down with
a short line. My perseverance was rewarded, and I managed to secure
three grilse. The great thing is to keep going, and to try to bring all
your acquired experience to bear. A dry fly will never catch a salmon;
your fly must be kept in the water, and not on the bank. The assiduous
fisherman will beat the lazy one into fits.

National interest is, undoubtedly, being more constantly directed to
the importance of our salmon fisheries. Thus, this very year, 1905, an
influential deputation, headed by the Duke of Abercorn, was received
at the Offices of the Board of Agriculture, the object being to obtain
Governmental support to a private Bill that had been drafted with the
idea of giving increased powers to the Central Board, and to boards
of Conservators generally. The Bill, mild and tentative though it was
in its provisions, met with but qualified support at headquarters, as
it involved questions of finance, and possible rate aid to boards of
Conservators in carrying out necessary improvements in cases where
the local authorities refused to act. The question is, however, too
vast and too important to be dealt with by piecemeal legislation of
any kind, and, in regard to the vast national asset that is being
squandered and frittered away, demands energetic legislation on a bold
scale.

The salmon fishery industry is a factor in the prosperity of the
nation, and the whole issue, with all its branches and ramifications,
should be fairly and squarely tackled in a Government Bill, not in the
interests of a class, but in that of the nation.

It is satisfactory to learn from Lord Onslow that the Government Bill
dealing with obstructions and fish passes, though temporarily withdrawn
last Session, still embodies the views of the present Administration.
We must be thankful for small mercies, but this Bill merely touches one
item of importance, and any Government that has the courage and wisdom
to deal with the question as a whole will certainly have done something
to merit the lasting gratitude of the whole country.

Since these lines were penned, the Election of January, 1906, has come
and gone, and with it a vast change in the aspect of political matters.
The point, however, that we are advocating is not a party question. It
is a matter affecting the interests of all classes, and it is devoutly
to be hoped that the new Government will take a "liberal" view of this
important matter, and will bring forward a bill, in the interests of
the nation at large, dealing with the whole question of our salmon
harvest in the rivers as well as the sea.

[Illustration]

[Illustration: GET THE GAFF READY.]



CHAPTER XV.

A TRIP TO IRELAND.


SOME years ago, when Ireland was greatly disturbed--it was the year
after Lord Leitrim's assassination--a party of three, of which I formed
one, decided to fish the Clady, in Co. Donegal. We went _viâ_ Belfast
and Letterkenny, bound for Gweedore. We had received many warnings
against our projected trip, and were told that the "Boys" would not
allow us to cross the mountains in our outside cars on our long drive
from Letterkenny. Death's heads and crossbones, however, did not deter
us, though our car drivers were sufficiently impressed and alarmed
to insist that, if they took us, we should undertake to keep them at
Gweedore until we returned. This we had to concede, and off we set.

The reports of the Clady were most temptingly satisfactory. The
malcontents had burnt the nets at the mouth of the river at Dum-Dum,
as they were the property of our landlord; the fish had, therefore, a
clean run up the river. The talented author of "Three in Norway, by One
of Them," had taken a fabulous number of salmon shortly before--report
said fifty fish in one fortnight--so it was not likely that three
sturdy fishermen would be frightened by paper threats. As a proper
measure of protection we were each of us in possession of a revolver,
more for show, should occasion arise, than because we were likely to
need it for our protection. Our drive, if my memory serves me right,
was over fifty miles in length, and was satisfactorily accomplished
without any startling incident or need for the display of our lethal
weapons. We were not sorry when it was over, and we were able to get
off our cars and see what comforts the hotel could provide.

The local peasantry, of course, were not inimical to us as individuals,
but were determined to score off our landlord, and to destroy or
diminish his profits from the fishing. We had, therefore, to house and
care for our gillies as well, in order to save them from maltreatment.
Fortunately the river, though on the low side, was in fair order, and
the pools were crammed full of fish--too full, indeed, for sport; and
though we did not exactly equal the totals credited to our predecessor,
still, we could not complain of the results. The fish, bright and
clean, were not heavy--averaging not more than 10 lb. to 11 lb.--but
they fought well. Neither were they by any means perfect in shape,
being long and narrow, altogether less good-looking than their cousins
of the Crolly, who use the same _embouchure_. These latter are perfect
in contour and shape, more like Awe or Avon fish.

Sport throughout our fortnight's stay was distinctly good, though
not remarkable, but the visit gave rise to some, to me, interesting
experiences. Thus, in one pool, called the Pulpit pool, the usual cast
is from the top of some very high rocks, as the name implies, into the
cauldron below. The fish lie near the rocks on the pulpit side; from
there the fly would never hang or fish properly; do what you would,
it resembled a bunch of dead feathers. On the other hand, there was
a convenient run on that side, down which a fish could be taken into
the pool below; and, as the fish hooked there always would insist on
going down, this point was one of some importance. On the opposite side
of the pool there was a charming shelving beach, or bank, and if you
could find a fly so well tempered as to stand being thrown against the
rocks opposite to you, you were almost certain of a rise, as your fly
then played admirably over the taking part of the pool. The problem was
then how your fish could be played when hooked, for between you and the
before-mentioned run was a line of serrated rocks, and a fish hooked
that meant going down would inevitably cut you. He must, therefore, not
be allowed to go down. Luckily, between you and this line of rocks was
a deepish backwater, and this was our _deus ex machina_, and solved the
difficulty. In this backwater we stationed the gillie, gaff in hand,
and crouched down; no sooner was a fish hooked than, before he could
realise the situation, he was unceremoniously hurried across the pool
into the backwater, and there equally unceremoniously gaffed. After two
or three fish had been so treated our gillie remarked sadly, "Well,
sorr, you may call this fishing, but I call it murther"; and so it
really was.

As an example of how a difficulty may be overcome it was not without
its value. The moral is that a fish, when first hooked and before
he has realised what is happening, can be readily persuaded to act
according to your will, as he will never consent to do later on. Just
as a heavy trout lying amongst a bank of weeds can, if you can get his
head up, be led holus-bolus over and across the weeds into reasonable
water directly you have hooked him, so, in a similar manner, a salmon
will often allow you a latitude in dealing with him at first that
he won't give you a second time. Frequently the heaviest fish take
some time after being hooked before they are roused to a sense of
their position, and exert themselves to the full to get rid of the
annoying restraint. The strong upward pull of a salmon rod, tending
to pull him out of his natural element, is what a fish girds against,
naturally enough, and I have frequently found it of advantage to take
the strain entirely off a fish that is making too determined an effort
to leave a pool. Give him his head and he will often stop his run and
save you from the risk of being cut or broken. There is necessarily a
considerable element of risk in so doing, but desperate cases often
require desperate remedies. As with trout, so with salmon, hand lining
can frequently be resorted to advantageously, and it is wonderful how
easily salmon can be led by that means out of dangerous places, and
even brought to the gaff; the strain being removed, they do not seem to
resist an insidious and horizontal pull.

In the pool below the Pulpit I had my first experience in learning how
to deal with a clean-run fish, hooked fairly and firmly in the thick
part of the tail. I had, of course, had to play foul-hooked fish, but I
had never hooked one in that part before. I was casting a longish line,
and rose a fish at the tail of the pool. On my offering him the fly a
second time he made a big splashy rise; I struck, and was in him. Down
he went into the next pool like a mad thing. The travelling, for me,
was bad, and the gillie had to steady me by holding on to the band of
my Norfolk jacket. I held the fish as hard as I dared, but he was bent
on running, out of one pool into and through the next; race as I would
over the wet and slippery rocks, I never could get on terms with him,
and he led me by some forty or fifty yards of line. As he had never
shown so far and was playing so hard, both my gillie and I thought we
were into a real big one. We were now nearing the falls above the sea
pool; I was pretty near pumped out, so some resolute measures had to be
taken. I accordingly, whilst holding on for all I was worth, sent the
gillie ahead to stone him up. No sooner was he turned than he was done,
and the gaff in him, and then only did we find out how he was hooked.
He weighed no more than 14 lb., and had we known where the hook was,
and had we not put him down as a real big fish, he would have never
have been permitted to play such pranks and lead us such a dance. Had
I held him really hard, his down-stream rush would soon have finished
him, as the water running through his gills would have choked him.

One day we decided to try the Crolly, wishing to sample some of those
beautiful fish, and, as it meant a seven-mile walk over the hills,
we left our salmon rods at home, taking instead only double-handed
trout rods. On arriving, we found the wind very foul, blowing partly
across and partly up the river, so that it was no easy matter to
command the pools at all properly with our small rods. One fish in
particular annoyed us by showing constantly in a part of the water we
could barely reach and could not command, so we instituted a kind of
angling tournament, each of us in turn trying to get over him properly.
Our gillies were watching intently and open-mouthed. One of them, Pat
by name, had a peculiarly ugly mouth, with heavy, protruding lips;
and whilst he was watching thus intently, the unkind wind brought my
friend's fly, a big Jock Scott, right into his mouth, fixed it firmly
into his lower lip, the forward cast sending it well home, and nearly
dragging poor Pat into the river. We none of us felt equal to attacking
the fly in its weird position, so we sent Pat down to the village,
a mile or more away, to get the local doctor to extract it. Down he
went, only to return an hour later with the fly still sticking in its
former position, and having received a severe drubbing with shillelahs
from the locals for having presumed to gillie for us. Pretty well black
and blue all over, his lower lip enormously swollen, he looked indeed
a sorry sight. Something had now to be done, so it then occurred to
one of us to strip the fly, which fortunately was not an eyed one, and
take it out the reverse way. This was done accordingly without delay, a
plug of tobacco was stuffed into the gaping hole, a good jorum of "the
craytur" was speedily administered, and Pat soon forgot all about his
thrashing and his sore lip in his keenness to gaff the fish we managed
to catch.

Owing to our being so severely boycotted, we had to manage for food
at the hotel as best we could, and the monotonous diet of salmon in
every form or shape, varied with a ham or piece of bacon, disagreed
thoroughly with me, and somewhat marred the perfect enjoyment of my
trip.

On Sundays we used to drive to the Protestant church in a big brake,
so as to take the servants with us and protect them from possible
violence; and one sermon we heard there amused us mightily. We were
sitting in the big square pew just under the pulpit. The parson
preached us an impassioned sermon on intolerance, and I must candidly
admit that I have seldom listened to a more intolerant one. He
launched forth into a tirade of abuse of most things, of absenteeism
in particular, bewailing the sorrows of his poor, distressful country,
and attributing the large majority of her troubles to a non-resident
gentry. "They come here," said he, "not to do their duty or to help us,
but merely to gratify their miserable sporting instincts" (and here we
began to feel very small); "but," he added, leaning over the side of
the pulpit in our direction, "not, gintlemen, that I allude to angling,
for that is a grand sport. One of the greatest of the apostles, Saint
Peter, was an ardent angler, and I am an angler myself." Mentally
bowing our acknowledgments, we left the church, grateful that so
eloquent a divine should be appreciative of our favourite sport.

One more anecdote and I have done. We were going back to England on the
morrow, and were settling up generally, when my gillie Pat said to me,
"Your honour, would ye buy me a pig?" "And why should I do that, Pat?
Are you not content with your tip?" "Well, your honour, I don't want
ye to pay altogither for it, but only to buy it for me." After some
further conversation I consented to go up to the shanty on the hill
where his old mother lived. There I found her haggling over the price
of a sow; she averred that £3 was more than the sow was worth, the man
was holding out for £3 10_s._ Eventually I became the purchaser at
£3, and, paying the money, told Pat that as he had been a good gillie
to me he could have the pig for his own. All the blessings of heaven
were showered on my head by Pat and his mother; but no sooner had the
dealer departed than Pat, producing an old stocking, extracted three
sovereigns therefrom and solemnly handed them to me. Asked what all
this comedy meant, Pat at once replied, "Ach, sorr, would ye have me
let the praste know I'd got three sovereigns in my pocket?"

Were the nets at the mouth of the Clady and the Crolly kept within
reasonable limits, few better rivers for summer angling could be found.
Having seen their capabilities when the nets were perforce removed
altogether, I gained an idea of what the sport might be in our sea-girt
island, with its innumerable rivers, were the angling not throttled by
the vast array of legalised nets that threaten to destroy, or at any
rate reduce very heavily, the sport and profit of riparian owners.

That much has been done and that more is being done in this respect
cannot be gainsaid. The allowance of longer slaps, the purchase
outright of netting rights in individual cases, are undoubted steps in
the right direction. But until the process is more universally applied
its effect cannot be considerable. Salmon coast along such an extent
of our shores before reaching their destination that bag and coast
nets miles away may take heavy toll of the fish that are seeking your
estuary, even though they would have a free run up your river if once
they could attain it.

Is it too much to hope that some day a wise Government may take
the matter in hand, not by piecemeal legislation, but with the
determination of so apportioning and circumscribing the respective
rights of all concerned and interested, that the price of salmon as an
article of food may not be increased, and the true rights of both net
fisherman and angler may be secured?

These two are so much bound up together that over net fishing must
necessarily and improperly reduce the number of spawning fish, and
thus injure the rivers which, by furnishing the spawning grounds, are
the geese that lay the golden eggs. Kill the geese and you get no more
eggs of gold. Treat the rivers unfairly, either by pollution or by
over-netting, and not only will the net fishing industry suffer, but
the general public also, for salmon will rise to famine price.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XVI.

SALMON AND FLIES.


WHY does a salmon take a salmon fly, and what does it represent to him?
These are conundrums that are not readily answered. Obviously it cannot
be because it represents any particular article of food to which salmon
are accustomed when in the river. If one may presume to dogmatise at
all upon so abstruse a question, it must be because their curiosity and
predatory instincts are aroused by a queer object, moving with a series
of jerks and a somewhat lifelike movement of fibres. Any salmon angler
with the slightest experience will know what is meant by "hanging
a fly" properly, and its taking powers as compared with a bunch of
lifeless feathers floating down stream. So far we are all agreed; but
when we attempt to discuss the details of the fly itself we are prone
to differ amazingly.

Some years ago, on the occasion before alluded to, when I was fishing
the River Clady, in Donegal, the nets having been removed for that
year, the river was full of fresh-run fish--it was in July. There was
a pool in which the fish lay in serried rows in the stream, which
at that point ran under a steep, high bank. I lay down on the bank
overlooking and a little behind the rows of salmon, and some twenty
feet above them. By shading my eyes I could make out all the fish as
clearly as if I were looking at them in an aquarium. I arranged a code
of signals with my fishing friend, and he went some thirty yards or
so up the river to fish the pool. As soon as his fly began to work
over the first line I signalled that he had got the length; there was,
however, no movement among the fish. I then signalled to cast again
with the same length of line. As the fly worked over the fish for the
second time they all seemed to shun it, dropping down stream a foot or
so, with the exception of one fish, which, separating from the others,
came up some three feet to follow the fly, eventually leaving it and
dropping back into his former position. A third passage of the fly
produced similar results, the same fish moving again. He made a break
in the water, which my friend saw, but he had come short. A fourth cast
secured him.

I could come to no other conclusion but that the fish had been bored
into taking that fly. His curiosity had been excited at first, and
in ordinary circumstances the fisherman would have known nothing and
passed on. Does not this tend to show that many a fish may be moved
without our knowledge, and that a subsequent fly might secure him?

It is often thought that the first fly over a pool stands the best
chance, provided, of course, that it is properly offered. Personally,
I would just as soon follow a good angler down a pool as precede him.
Unless a fish breaks the water in his rise, the fisherman can tell
little of what is happening below the water level, except when, by
chance, a glimpse of a silver flash is accorded him. But he may have
moved a fish with his fly, and, knowing nothing, will have moved a yard
down stream, his next cast being a yard below the fish. The next fly,
suitably offered, if it be about the same size, may lure our friend to
his destruction. Could we all know exactly what is going on under the
water out of our sight, many more fish would doubtless be brought to
bank. Of course, on those days when the temperature of both air and
water have attained that precise relative proportion that seems to
cause a simultaneous rise of fish in every pool, the first fly will pay
best, for on such happy occasions that fly, however ill delivered, may
secure the best fish. And what fisherman cannot recall instances of
"duffer's luck," the veriest tyro catching, perhaps, the fish of the
season? I remember once trying to teach a would be angler how to cast,
and in a most unlikely spot--the river being dead low--was endeavouring
to instil into him the rhythm of the cast, and trying to make him get
his line out well behind him. Holding the rod with him, I kept the
same length of line, steadily flogging the water to the tune of "one,
two," when, at about the ninth or tenth cast, a travelling fish seized
our fly, and eventually came to the gaff, a clean-run salmon of 18 lb.

[Illustration: HE MEANS GOING DOWN.]

But surely the precise pattern of the fly, within limits, is of small
moment; the size, coupled with the proper working of the fibres, is the
main thing. Every angler has, naturally, his own favourite shibboleth,
mainly, in my opinion, because he has succeeded with it, and therefore
perseveres with it far more steadily than with any other pattern. In
the same way local fetishes are set up, and when once adopted are hard
to shift. On the Beauly, years ago, fishing on that lovely water in the
spring, we were using the orthodox spring fly, a sort of exaggerated
Alexandra, and were mainly catching kelts. When one of us suggested
a Gordon (having lately used it on the Dee) the fishermen laughed us
to scorn, and said we might as well fish with it on the high road.
Nevertheless, the fly was tried, and nearly all the clean fish we got
that week were secured by it. When our time was up our gillies begged
for our worn specimens of the goodly Gordon, and the next lessee caught
all his fish upon flies of that pattern; and, for aught I know, that
fly may now be reckoned as one of the standard flies of the river.

To revert to the original query. Can it be answered satisfactorily?
Surely it must represent some food taken whilst the salmon are in
their sea home; and yet, if this be the only probable answer, how
comes it that on some rivers, as is the case in Canada, salmon cannot
be persuaded to rise at any fly of the kind? After all, whether the
question is unanswerable or no, the glorious uncertainty of salmon
fishing forms one of its most potent fascinations. If every bungling
cast hooked a salmon, few people would care for the sport.

All this said, then, what form of fly are we to use? Here we get upon
very debatable ground, and whatever conclusion we arrive at will
probably be strenuously opposed. The patterns of salmon flies are
legion, many differing but slightly from others. Are we to credit
salmon with such extraordinary intelligence as to believe them able to
differentiate between varieties of almost similar flies, and to have
such a correct eye for colour as to refuse a fly because the colour
of the body or hackle is a shade unorthodox? The size of the fly, no
doubt, is a most important factor, both as regards the size and
volume of the river and the time of the year. It would be the height
of absurdity to use in fine run water in the summer a three inch fly
that would be a suitable lure on the brawling Thurso in the spring, and
_vice versâ_. The finer the water the smaller the fly--within reason.

So far, I think, we are all agreed. It is when we attempt to reduce
the vast number of flies now in vogue that differences of opinion will
begin to assert themselves.

On the whole, perhaps, there will be less divergence of opinion about
that singularly fortunate combination of fur, feather, and tinsel,
termed the Jock Scott. It seems, to an extraordinary degree, to
be effective on most rivers where the artificial fly is used. The
combination of colour is most happy, and the fibres of its mixed wing
give it, in the water, a most life-like appearance. Few anglers would
care to be without Jock Scotts of sizes. Similarly, in bright water
the Silver Doctor is a universal favourite, and justly so. As a direct
contrast the Thunder and Lightning is bad to beat, and I should be
sorry to be without a Blue Doctor.

Eagles, grey and yellow, hold their sway on the Dee, and the play of
the feathers seems to be alluring in the quick waters of that river.
How would such a fly suit the quiet waters of the Avon? You would
imagine that you might as well fish with a mop-head! The fibres of
Eagles require fast, fleet water to make them work, and to use an
Eagle as your lure in slow-running rivers would appear to be most
inappropriate. The play of the rod point may, however, be substituted
for the play of the water, and a tempting opening and closing of
fibrous and mixed winged flies can be obtained by a judicious
rhythmical raising and lowering of your rod point. Indeed, if you
watch an experienced salmon fisherman from a distance, you can tell at
once the kind of water his fly is working through. If the stream be
sufficiently broken and rapid to work his fly automatically, his rod
point will be still. If the water should be sluggish, you will note the
work of the rod top. It would, therefore, be folly to dogmatise on such
a matter, and I should be sorry to attempt to do so.

Gordons, Butchers, Wilkinsons, and a host of others have their staunch
advocates.

It is, however, unnecessary to run through the whole gamut; suffice
it to say that in my opinion, a good selection of, say four or five,
would be as effective as twenty or thirty. The main difficulty is local
prejudice, and the uncertain kind of feeling--that if you had not
discarded local favourites your blank day might have been fruitful.
Once, however, you have shaken yourself free from this feeling, you
will very soon gain full confidence in your theory. The blank day that
you are mourning would probably have been equally blank if you had been
equipped with all that local fancy could suggest. Can it be seriously
suggested that salmon can be credited with sufficient intelligence to
refuse a Silver Doctor or Silver Grey and to accept only a Wilkinson?
Is it not rather that the fly that was accepted was presented in a most
alluring manner, whilst the others which were rejected did not come
within the salmon's ken in such a way as to tempt him? Are we not all
too prone to change our flies on the slightest provocation, and are we
not all inclined to have our own favourite fetish--a fly that succeeds
with us simply because we give it ten chances to one of any other? The
vagaries of salmon are universally admitted; at one time they will
allow all lures to pass them unnoticed, and in the next half hour
may take any fly, of the proper size, suitably offered. The relative
temperatures of air and water have, I feel convinced, much to say with
regard to this. The fly in which an angler believes, and with which,
therefore, he perseveres most, will bring him more fish to bank than
any other.

It goes without saying that the fly that is most in the water, in the
fishable parts of the pools, of course, will catch most fish. The
patient, persistent angler has that great advantage over his less
energetic brother of the angle. What angler is there, who ties his
own flies, who has not built up a combination of fur, feathers, and
silk by the river side, and, on trying the novelty, perhaps after days
of disappointment, has found it unexpectedly to succeed, and who has
thereupon fondly imagined that he has found a "medicine," only to be
equally disappointed the next time it is tried? Scrope, in his day,
seems to have been satisfied with five patterns. To come to later
times and later writers, Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Gathorne Hardy both
advocate four only. The colour of the bottom of the river, of the sky,
the brightness of the day, or its cloudiness, all these will affect our
choice of fly, whilst the size and volume of the water will affect our
choice of size.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XVII.

SALMON OF THE AWE.


THE River Awe, in Argyllshire, presents, to my mind, the perfection of
angling water. A fine brawling stream, a constant succession of pools,
some easy to fish, some only fishable by past masters, lovely, deep,
roach-backed salmon trout--all these are bad to beat, and when one adds
the fact that the run of the heavy fish takes place in June and July,
after the Orchy fish have run through, the two months of all others,
perhaps, when salmon fishing is enjoyable, I do not think any further
arguments need be urged to enforce my point.

Were I a rich man--which I am not--I should feel inclined to do my best
to secure the fishing rights on that merry little river in preference
to many others of high repute. It is now many years since I first
wetted a line on the Awe. My old gillie, Black Peter, or the "Otter,"
as he was frequently called, has, I fear, gaffed his last salmon and
drunk his last glass of whisky, and (save the mark!) he was mighty good
at both. I can see him now, in his somewhat tattered kilt, hanging
on to the porch of the Clachan, trying to steady himself, to give me
a right cordial welcome when I arrived. No more will he swim the Awe
when in spate to land a fish for the "Colonel" that had jumped itself
on the rocks on the opposite side of the river, some mile or two above
the bridge--a foolhardy feat in such water; but he was always full of
sport, and not infrequently, alas, equally full of whisky.

The head of water in this bonnie little river is always maintained
fairly well by its being the affluent of Loch Awe. It is not,
therefore, so liable to the quick rises and falls of most rivers. The
loch is fed by the River Orchy, which flows into its north-eastern
end, whilst the Awe, after passing through the Pass of Brander, forms
its only outlet. All the Orchy fish, therefore, have to run up the Awe
to get to their own waters. These fish run early in the spring, never
dwelling for any length of time in the Awe; and, curiously enough, any
tyro could at once differentiate between the salmon of the two rivers,
though they have a common outlet to the sea. The Orchy fish are long,
lanky, and plain as compared with the short, thick-set beauties of the
Awe. I recollect once in Ireland coming across the same difference in
fish using the same _embouchure_. It was in Donegal, where the Crolly
and the Clady unite at Dum Drum. In this case also one lot of fish are
poor in shape, whilst the others are of totally different calibre. And,
moreover, in that case the fish never seem to lose their way. Seldom is
a Crolly fish found in the Clady, or _vice versâ_. How accurate are the
instincts of nature!

The lower reaches of the river Awe are very varied and very beautiful.
The river has churned its way through the solid rock. The two Otter
Pools, Arroch and the Long Pool, are good examples of the rock-hewn
gorges. In the latter, a fine quiet stretch of water, where local
knowledge of the lie of fish is valuable, switching or spey casting is
necessary if you wish to avoid being constantly hung up in the trees
above. The Red Pool, just above the stepping stones, can only be fished
from a plank staging fixed high above the water, and should you hook a
heavy one at the tail end and he means going down you will be thankful
enough when you have safely negotiated the return journey on the high
plank and reached the shore. Even then you have plenty of excitement in
store before you can hope to see him on the bank. The rocky sides of
the chasm do not form a racing track. But get him once safely down to
the Stepping Stone Pool and he should be yours.

This same pool, by the way, is not altogether the place for a beginner,
for when the river is in order the aforesaid stepping stones have about
two feet or more of fairly heavy water over them; and as they are
well-worn boulders, somewhat inclined to be rounded on the top, and
are placed at a rather inconvenient distance from one another, they are
apt to make a nervous man think. One friend, I can well remember, when
I asked him to fish the pool, absolutely declined, asking me if I took
him for a "blooming acrobat." Below again we come to the Cruive Pool,
a long cast from another staging, the fish lying on the far side, just
about as far as an 18 ft. rod will get you. But be there in July when
the sun is setting, the redder the better, behind the hills on the far
side, and suddenly the silent oily water becomes broken with countless
rises, also on the far side. Put on then a cast of sea trout flies and
use your salmon rod, otherwise you will never reach them. Do not bother
with a landing net, but run them ashore on the shelving bank below you
and let your gillie take them off the hooks, and get to casting again
as soon as you can. The rise, though a good one, lasts, I assure you,
but a tantalisingly short time, and then the pool is as quiet and oily
as ever, and you would feel inclined to stake your bottom dollar that
there was not a sea trout within miles.

The Thunder and Lightning and the Blue Doctor are the local lures, and
kill well. One year, when the river was low and the fish as stiff as
pokers, I tied a "medicine" of my own that I fondly hoped would form a
standard fly on that water, for its effect was admirable at that time.
It was an olive fly, body olive silk ribbed with silver, tag a golden
pheasant, dark olive hackles, a light mixed wing with golden pheasant
topping. Having caught several fish that year with this fly, I got
Messrs. Eaton and Deller to dress me a stock, and must candidly admit
that never since then have I caught a single salmon with the "olives."

There are two pools, however, above the Long Pool that I have not
attempted to describe--the lower one the Yellow Pool, an ideal, leg
of mutton-shaped piece of water, where a beginner could not well go
wrong, and above it the Bridge Pool, so called because the railway line
crosses the neck of it. It was in this pool that I once had a rare bit
of sport. The whole of the water I have attempted to describe was then
hotel water, the fishermen staying at the inn having the right to fish
for a nominal sum--5_s._ a day I think it was. But the river had been
in fair order, and several good fish had been got. It was then rapidly
getting on the small side. The records of the previous week having
been published in the columns of the _Field_, the inevitable result
was a rush of ardent anglers, and the dozen or so of good pools--nice
water for two rods--was perfectly inadequate to accommodate the six
keen fishermen who had arrived to try their luck. It was necessary,
therefore, to "straw" for the pools, and to my lot fell the Bridge and
Yellow Pools. The next morning, on reaching my little beat, I found the
Yellow Pool far too low to be fishable, and there remained only the
Bridge Pool. Fishing it down carefully twice produced no result, so I
lit a pipe and clambered up on to the railway bridge to scan the water
below me.

I was able, after a careful search with shaded eyes, to locate three
fish, all low down on the far side, lying behind a big stone below the
water and upon a slab. I could see at once that to reach them I should
have to do my utmost in the casting way, and should have, moreover,
to bring my line up through the centre arch of the bridge above me to
get out the length I wanted; but it seemed to me that if I could get
my fly to travel and work well over the oily water formed by the stone
it ought to be irresistible to any well-conducted fish. So, putting on
a small Thunder, I regained the water side. The second cast brought
up the smallest of the three fish, who made no bones about it, but
hooked himself handsomely, and was shortly after disposed of in the
tail of the pool; he weighed a bare 9 lb. The other two I knew were
better fish; one I had seen should be over 20 lb., the other, a very
pale-coloured fish, I could not see distinctly enough to form any idea
as to his weight. Back I went to my spying point, only just missing
being caught on the narrow bridge by a passing train, to see, to my
delight, that the other two fish were there, apparently undisturbed.
After a few casts the fly went exactly as I could have wished, and
there was the answering boil. "By Jove! that is the big one I think;
anyway, he is hooked, and well hooked, too." After a long, splashy
fight in the pool I got on terms with him, and he began to flounder,
and then I could see I had the light-coloured fish on. The big one was
still there, I hoped. The pale fish soon came to the gaff, and, getting
it nicely home with the left hand, I hauled him on to the bank, a good
fish, and in good condition, turning the scale at barely 17 lb.

By this time the pool had had a good doing, and I judged it advisable
to give it a rest. The Yellow Pool, which I had fished down more
for occupation than for anything else, yielding me no response--and,
indeed, it was all I expected--I ate my luncheon, lit my pipe, and
proceeded once more to my vantage spot. There, sure enough, was the
big fish, undisturbed and immutable. Unable to restrain my impatience,
I sent a fly (the same one that had accounted for the two other fish)
on its errand of quest. But there was no movement, no reply, nor was
there to two other changes of fly I put over him. Having nowhere else
to fish, and being disinclined to try the Yellow Pool again, as I felt
sure it would be hopeless, I sat me down to cogitate and look over
my fly box. The day had become sultry and heavy, and clouds had been
rolling up, and suddenly there broke a regular deluge of rain, turning
the pool into a seething mass of big drops. Instinctively I ran for
shelter under the bridge, but before I reached it changed my mind and
determined to try once more for the big one in the heavy rainstorm.

Hastily putting on a Thunder and Lightning two sizes larger, I sent him
out, braving the ducking I was undergoing. The first fly that reached
the spot was answered by a fine head and tail rise, and I was fast in
the big one. For a short time he played sulkily, either through not
grasping the situation or through trying to induce me to believe him to
be a small one. But I was not to be deluded, and, as he kept edging up
into the big water coming down the centre arch of the railway bridge, I
let him have a bit of the butt of my 18 ft. Castleconnell. But, with a
savage shake of his head and strong whisk of his broad tail, he was now
thoroughly aroused, and, despite all I could do, up he went, carefully
threading the central arch and working up for all he was worth into
the heavy water round the corner. My running line was thus against the
buttress, but, despite the imminent danger of being cut, there was
nothing to do but give him "beans." Fortunately for me my lucky star
was in the ascendant. A convenient patch of moss between the courses
of the bricks saved my line from the grinding process; the strain of
my supple rod, combined with the weight of the water, did the trick. I
felt him yield, reeled up as hard as I could, but, as he turned tail
and came down (fortunately for me through the same arch), I soon had
to give up reeling in in order to haul in the line by hand to keep
touch with him in his downward rush. Steadying the line when he got
ahead of me, I felt he was still on. Ten minutes of the fight against
rod, water, and luck had been enough for him, and, rolling on his
side, he swung round into the slack below me. I had had no chance till
then of taking my gaff off my back; luckily it came off my shoulders
quite freely, and the steel went home. As I hauled him out with some
difficulty, the hook, which had worn a big hole, came out of his jaw;
so my luck continued to the last. I could not make him scale 30 lb.; he
was a good 29½ lb., and, inasmuch as I had never landed a fish of 30
lb. or upwards, that part was somewhat aggravating. But, as I toiled
home that evening over the three miles of sleepers and rails to the inn
with the three fish weighing just about half-a-hundredweight, I several
times wished he had not been quite so heavy.

The upper waters of the Awe, above Awe Bridge, formerly retained by the
Marquis of Breadalbane in his own hands, and therefore not open to the
general public, can nowadays be fished from Dalmally Hotel. Through
that nobleman's enterprise one of the two big cruives has been done
away with, and there is to be an additional slap nightly, between 6
p.m. and 6 a.m. The results cannot but be both beneficial and prudent.
The characteristics of these upper waters are totally distinct from
those of the lower ones, being unusually broken and rapid, the pools
small, and not easily distinguishable.

The pent up waters of Loch Awe, finding through the dark Pass of
Brander their only outlet to the sea, take full advantage of their
opportunity, and rush and boil over the boulder-bestrewn bed of the
river in a way that renders it imperative that your gut should be of
the best, your tackle sound, and your determination great that you will
not consent to be a mere follower of a hooked fish, but intend to give
him "beans" when necessary.

The Black and Seal Pools and Verie are fairly typical of the upper Awe
waters; most of them are fished from planks rigged out on staging,
and wading is not generally practicable. A hooked fish can never be
reckoned on as caught, nor can you ever be certain of him until the
gaff has gone home and your fish lies on the bank beside you. This
remark, of course, applies in a greater or lesser degree to all salmon
fishing; but here the perils from heavy water, combined with the
rugged, rock-strewn bed, afford unusual chances of escape, and at the
same time add much to the sporting charms of a successful capture.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XVIII.

DISAPPOINTING DAYS.


DISAPPOINTING Days! How well we all know them, and how terribly
frequent they are. Full of ardour and keen as mustard, we anticipate
great things, only to find that another day of disappointment is to
be added to the many already recorded in our angling diary. And it is
sometimes so difficult to anticipate them; all the omens seem to be
propitious, and yet the fates are inexorable.

There are days admittedly hopeless, when the river side is only sought
for its companionship, and for the unknown possibilities of fortune;
and others that are worse than hopeless, when to try to fish for
salmon with a fly would be the height of absurdity, as, for instance,
when the river is in high spate, or so full of snow brue or ice as to
render your chances almost ridiculous. These, in a sense, are certainly
disappointing; but it is not of them that I would write, but rather of
those inexplicable days when all seems to be fairly propitious and yet
we come home "blank."

Fortunately, fishermen are not easily browbeaten by unkind fortune,
and these black letter days only serve to give a renewed zest to
the future, in anticipation of the more fortunate days that we all
confidently believe to be in store for us.

Everything seems on some occasions to go unaccountably wrong. The water
may be in order, the fish up, and yet at the end of the day you have
nothing but mishaps to record, your confident expectations have been
rudely dissipated, and you have met with a series of misfortunes.

Perhaps on starting you find that you have left your flask or your
tobacco pouch lying on your mantelpiece, and imprudently have turned
back to secure them. That circumstance alone, in the eyes of your
gillie, will prove amply sufficient to give you a "disappointing day."
You have already discounted your luck, and must not grumble at the
result. On reaching the water side you find that you have brought
with you the wrong box of flies, and only have with you the one you
had discarded overnight as containing those of a size too large.
Well, you must make the best of it, mount the least objectionable of
those at your disposal, and proceed to wade out into the stream with
half your confidence gone. You soon realise that your waders, which
had already given you warning indications of hard wear, are leaking
somewhat unpleasantly. After working your way half down the pool you
discover that your pipe is smoked out, and as you are in need of the
consoling influence of tobacco, you propose to refill it, proceeding
to knock out the ashes on the butt of your rod; in doing so the pipe
slips through your fingers and disappears in the stream at your feet.
It is impossible to recover it, so you are pipeless, and therefore
inconsolable all day.

Some disappointments are sheer ill fortune; some we bring upon
ourselves. You are, for example, casting mechanically, and therefore
badly; moreover, you are not watching your fly, nevertheless you get
a rise. You step back a yard or so, in order to be sure of getting
the length right for the next cast, and in so doing forget the slimy
green boulder that you had just negotiated on your way down. An awkward
struggle, in which you have to use the butt of your rod as a stick to
avoid an upset, does not serve to mend matters, but rather to unsteady
you the more. At any rate, you have escaped a real ducking and are
proportionately thankful.

Then, your mental balance being somewhat upset, you cast over your
rising fish; he comes up well, a good boil, but you are too anxious
and keen, and fairly pull the fly out of the fish's mouth. You have
pricked him, and you will hardly get another rise out of him. Still
there is a Will-o'-the-wisp kind of luck awaiting you, for near the
tail of the pool you get a fair head-and-tail rise, and are fast in a
good fish. He won't come up into your pool, but insists on making down,
through the broken water, into the pool below. Having guided him to the
best of your ability through the intricacies of the run, you hasten to
get ashore to get on terms with him, keeping your rod point well up.
More haste, less speed. The fact of your mental balance being upset
reacts upon your bodily balance, and you catch the toe of your brogue
on a submerged rock whilst working your way ashore, and this time you
go a real "howler." Thoroughly wet, with a big chunk cut out of your
wrist in your fall, you pick yourself up to find that you have broken
your favourite rod point. Disconsolately you begin to reel up, the
broken top meanwhile floating on your line in the water.

Still a gleam of luck: the fish is on, and, moreover, is complacently
careering round the head of the new pool. Thoroughly aroused, you take
the greatest care in getting on to terms with him again. Your rod has
now a somewhat quaint appearance, like a dismasted yacht. Half the
play of it is gone, and the top swirls about on the water in a most
disconcerting manner. With set teeth, you grimly determine that, come
what may, you will land that salmon. And you meet with some measure of
reward, for after a somewhat prolonged duel, he begins to flop about on
the surface, and to show unmistakable signs of having had enough of it.

With the greatest care you select the best spot for gaffing him, and
successfully get the gaff free from your shoulder. Your now stiff and
stodgy rod is, however, not best suited for bringing him in to the
gaff. It is some little time before you get anything, like a fair
chance. Then, with the rod in your left hand, your trusty gaff in
the right, he is led in, down stream, and he flops about. The hold,
alas, has been somewhat worn, and, just as you are making ready for
your stroke, the fish makes one more roll and surge and is free. A
wild scrape with the gaff only scores a scale or two from his side,
and, slowly gliding out of sight into the deep water, he disappears
for ever. You feel that you have only yourself to thank for such a
_dénouement_, but that is scant consolation.

[Illustration: THE FALL'S POOL.]

Damp and annoyed, you sit yourself down by the river side to try to
make matters straight. Where is that waxed silk? At home, of course.
So you have to content yourself with sacrificing a good length of the
taper of your line in order to make a temporary splice.

Taking all things into consideration, your efforts to rig up a jury top
are reasonably successful, and it might yet kill a fish. If only you
had a pipe to console yourself with, things might look brighter and
better; but the loss of your pipe is an undeniably severe one. The pool
that you are now fishing has a shelving stone bank on your side, the
deep water being opposite to you. It is ideal water to fish, as the fly
works out of the heavy stream into the shallowing water on your side.
The wading, moreover, is easy, and the pool a long one, so that there
is every probability of your being able to yet retrieve your fortunes,
and of being able to account for a heavy fish before you have done with
it.

Still keeping mounted the fly that, contrary to your expectations,
had already deluded the former fish, you wade out and recommence
operations. The cast, however, demands a certain length of line to
cover the fish, and your rod is hardly the man it was; the breeze has
increased a good deal, and is directly behind you; still, you manage to
cover the water fairly well, and are beginning to get on better terms
with yourself. A few yards down there is a good rise and a welcome
heavy "rugg." The fly, however, comes away, and you are left lamenting.
The long pool is steadily fished down, and some hundred yards or so
lower you get another bold and confident rise. You strike, and the fly
again comes back. Reeling up, sadly you wade ashore, and, on examining
your fly, find the barb gone.

In all probability it was broken at the head of the pool on the
shelving bank behind you, the strong wind at your back and the long
cast with a weak rod having brought about the misfortune. Why, in the
name of goodness, had you not examined the fly when it came back after
your last rise? No doubt but that the barb had gone long before that.
Mentally cursing your carelessness, objurgating Dame Fortune, and
longing for the companionship of a pipe, there is nothing to be done
but to mount another fly and to fish, albeit somewhat mechanically, the
next stretch of water. But there is now no response. That inexplicable
co-relation between the temperature of the air and the water that seems
to cause salmon to rise has undergone some modification, the breeze has
dropped, and the mists are beginning to rise. Do what you will, not a
fish will move.

Had your luck been in the ascendant, or had you paid more respect to
the superstitions of your attendant gillie, things might have been
so different. You have had three good chances, each of which, under
normal circumstances, might have been fairly expected to score, and
that with flies that, in your judgment, were a size too large. Fate had
determined that you were to have a "disappointing day," and you cannot
say that you have not scored one.

In September, 1902, having received an invitation from an old friend to
fish one of the upper beats of the Spean, I journeyed up North, full of
eagerness. I had long wished to try that river. My host had informed me
that that river was low, but that everything pointed to broken weather
and rain; and though this forecast was true as regards some portions of
Great Britain, the change never came during the fortnight that I spent
on Spean side, that bonnie river getting finer and finer day by day,
until at last it became a mere shadow of its former self. At the time
of my arrival everything looked promising. Heavy clouds were gathering,
and it looked as if the promised rainfall could not be long delayed.
At the lodge I found, besides my host, another angler whom I am also
privileged to call an old friend, and in such company I knew that,
whether sport were good or no, we should at least have a jolly time.
That evening we discussed flies and angling details as only fishermen
can, and with a last look out of the window at the murky sky, and a tap
to my barometer as I turned in somewhat early, looking forward to the
morrow with the keenest anticipation.

Early astir next morning, I drew up my blinds to find an almost
cloudless sky and a bright sun. All the evening promise had been
dissipated, and the rain-laden clouds had wandered out to sea to
discharge their precious stores where least required. The river, though
small, was, nevertheless, still fishable, and there were plenty of
salmon up. At the lowest pool on the beat I put up my rod and fixed
up the local "medicine"--a Thunder and Lightning--and, wading out,
fished the pool down carefully, without result. My host then fished it,
also blank. Several fish had shown at the tail, but we could not get a
rise out of them. Then we wandered up the beat, trying all the likely
pools in turn. In the mill pool I managed to get into a small salmon,
about 7 lb. in weight, and duly got him out; otherwise our efforts
were entirely unrewarded. It was a great thing to learn the pools, and
to know where it was safe to wade, etc., and so I felt that the day
was not a lost one as far as I was concerned, though of course less
interesting to my friend S. and to my host. As we came home the clouds
again began to gather, to lure us, Will-o'-the-wisp-like, on to further
baseless hope, as the following bright, hot morning amply testified.

And so the days wore on, rocks gradually appearing where water had
flowed before, shallows becoming stony strands, and the fish more
pool-locked than ever. Finer grew the tackle used, smaller the flies.
We were really learning the geography of the bed of the river to some
weariness. After a few days S. gave up trying for the salmon, and
contented himself with trout waders and a trout rod as being more
productive of amusement. Being, however, of a more dogged temperament,
I stuck to the salmon, fishing with the smallest flies I could get,
and almost trout gut. By means of these allurements I did succeed in
amusing myself, rising and hooking quite a respectable number of fish,
but somehow or other I never could get a good hold of them; all were
lightly hooked, and got off in playing or eventually broke me. One fish
I was particularly annoyed with; he was a heavy one, well over 20 lb.,
and might have been 30 lb. I had often seen him showing in the pool at
the end of the Red Bank. This formed really the head of the Mill Pool,
but was now cut off from the main part of the Mill Pool by a daily
lowering shallow some 1 ft. to 18 in. deep, through which sharp-cutting
rocks jutted at intervals. In mid-stream quite a highish bank of stones
was now disclosed, and on our side had quite cut off the flow of water
and formed a large backwater. The pool was fishable with a short line,
and the high, rocky bank behind formed a good shelter whilst working
down the very rough bank side. About four o'clock one afternoon I saw
my friend show twice in the head of the pool, and determined to give
him another trial with the little Popham that had already risen fish.
He took it grandly, with a head-and-tail rise, right up in the roughish
water in the neck, and then proceeded to sail round the diminished
proportions of the deep hole. He played very heavily, but did not
jigger or show any signs of being lightly hooked. After some time of
this kind of work, which was taking but little out of him, my light
cast forbidding any heroic measures on my part, I began to wonder how
I could manage to kill him. He could have got up into the pool above,
where it would have been an easier matter to deal with him, but no arts
of mine could induce him up stream. I thought that if I could get him
down into the backwater I could more readily manage to play and kill
him, so I walked him steadily down stream, and he followed for some
distance like a lamb. Suddenly, however, he made up his mind for a run,
or, realising the object of my manoeuvre, off he went, churning his
way across the wide shallow, his back fin almost showing, bound for
the main stream on the other side. Sixty yards of line were soon gone,
then seventy, then eighty, and, as I could not follow, it was merely
a question of when he would break me, when apparently he changed his
mind, turned clean round and ran back through the shallow towards me
for all he was worth. Holding the rod as high as I could to prevent
my line being cut by the half-submerged, jagged rocks, and paying in
line as hard as I could at the same time, I got him within twenty
yards of the spot where he was hooked, the little Popham holding well,
and with no slack line. Just as my gillie and I were congratulating
ourselves that we had him now, up came the point of my rod, and he was
gone. The light cast had been terribly frayed by his mad rush across
the shallow water, and he retained my Popham and left me lamenting. It
certainly was hard lines, when all the dangers of the run had been so
successfully overcome and hooked fish were so scarce.

It is useless, however, to repine in such circumstances, and after all,
in a very dead time, he had given me a good twenty minutes to half an
hour of sport. My friend S. came up just as we parted company, and
condoled with me. That same afternoon my host managed to land a 21 lb.
fish on a stouter tackle, and he was not very red--the fish I mean,
not my host!--although he must have been up some time.

The same thing went on all the next week. A few desultory showers did
not help us much, and at the end of a fortnight's solid work I could
only show two small salmon of 7 lb. apiece, my host one of 21 lb., and
S., who had confined his attention to the trout after the first few
days, had not landed any fish. And so it is--too often, alas!--that
our hopes are doomed to disappointment. There were the fish, plenty
of them; but also there were the gradually dwindling river and the
expanding river bed. Nothing was wanting save a kindly and copious fall
of rain--so much needed by three ardent anglers--rain that was falling
only too copiously down South, whilst the normally wet North-West coast
of Scotland was languishing for want of it.

A dear fishing friend of mine took a rod for February one year, and
lived at Brawl Castle for the month at the rate of about £1 per day.
During the whole month the river and even Loch More were ice-bound, and
his rods reposed in the box. The trip must have cost him the best part
of £100. So our Spean experience was as nothing to his.

And these disappointments make an admirable foil for those happy,
though not too frequent, times when, for a wonder, river, fish, and
weather are all we could desire them to be. How little we should value
them were they of constant recurrence. So, consoling ourselves with
these reflections, we enjoy to the full the pleasure of the company of
kindred spirits, tie flies, grease lines, and fettle up rods generally,
yarn away our fishermen's tales, drink nightly the toast of "Rain, and
lots of it," and retire at night, confident, despite all, of the morrow.

Perchance your next holiday up North you may find your pet river in
sullen, heavy flood, the skies pouring down upon the devoted hills a
constant deluge. Each day you mark on the river bank the water level,
only to find your mark submerged the next day. Supposing even it were
to stop now. Could the river fine down sufficiently before the end of
your stay to enable you to have a glimmering hope of a fish? It is
possible, but doubtful. Next day's deluge settles the matter, and you
are done. But still, it is a poor heart that never rejoices. Next
time, after such a run of bad luck, you are bound to have an innings.
Men who have the instincts of sportsmen and who deserve the name have
a marvellous power of rising superior to adverse circumstances, and
consequently get their reward, whilst the dead-hearted give it up
as a bad job. Come good or bad luck, let your heart be in the right
place. You will be able to extract from either much enjoyment and some
experience, and will be just as keen to take the luck that comes the
very next opportunity you get of testing it.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XIX.

SEA TROUT FISHING AND ITS CHANCES.


FOR his size and weight there is no more sporting fish in the wide
world than the sea trout. His play when hooked is so full of vivacity,
so strenuous, you never know what he is going to do next. Half the time
of the contest he spends out of the water in the air. He rushes hither
and thither in the most unexpected manner, and having no particular
stronghold or shelter to make for, such as his cousins, the brown
trout, possess in their rivers, he tries by resourceful activity to rid
himself of the irksome restraint of the rod and line. His rise, too, is
so determined and so dashing--no quiet sucking down of a dun without
much perceptible body movement, but rather a rapid dash to secure an
article of food before his comrades can get it. Not much need to strike
with him; he hooks himself pretty effectually by his own efforts. Given
a single-handed split cane rod, fine tackle, and plenty of fresh run
sea trout in a Highland river, and you have the prospect of as good a
day's sport as any you ever enjoyed. You never know what the next cast
will produce; it may be a half-pounder or something twelve times as big.

The worst of sea trout, from the angler's point of view, is that they
are rather gregarious and keep in shoals; they are always anxious to
move up to the still deeps they love so well, and you may just miss the
shoal--they may be just above your water. But if you do happen to hit
them off, you will have no reason to regret it. Not many seasons ago I
was invited by a friend to shoot with him on one of the many Western
islands near Mull. Just before I reached the lodge, in my somewhat long
drive up from the landing place, I met my friend, rod in hand, by a
deep-looking, leg-of-mutton-shaped pool where his stream found its
outlet into the brackish waters of the arm of the sea that looked like
a land-locked loch.

"Get out of the trap; I've got a treat for you," were his first words
of greeting; and then he explained that they had had, the evening
before, the first run of the sea trout, and that, standing on a little
rock in the brackish water, he had caught quantities of fine fish.
Nothing loth to stretch my arms and legs, I took the proffered rod
with many thanks, and fished the pool down carefully without a rise
of any kind, or a sign of a fish. Putting on another fly, I tried it
down again, and also the brackish water at its mouth, with similar
results. My friend had foreborne to throw a fly on it until my arrival,
and so he chaffed me unmercifully at my want of success after the
extraordinary sport he had experienced the afternoon before. I told him
that I did not believe there was a trout in the water, and as he had
the netting rights, and had come down in the boat with the nets in it,
we carefully netted the pool. My host was so convinced that the sea
trout were there, that he offered to bet me any odds against a blank
draw. He would, however, have lost had I taken his bet, for sure enough
there was not a single fish in the whole pool. Whilst I made my way up
to the lodge, he went up to try some of the higher pools, but not a
rise did he get. The whole big run, shoal like, had run clean up into a
small lochan, of which his stream was the outlet.

But when you happen to find them just in the right place, where you
are, then you may congratulate yourself, if you have not too big a
rod with you, for half the pleasure of angling is to suit your rod
and tackle to the river and the fish. It is giving the show away and
discounting half your sport to be "over-rodded." To fish, for instance,
in the upper beats of, say, the Helmsdale, in Sutherland, with an 18
ft. rod is absurd. A 16 ft. or 14 ft. grilse rod will enable you to
cover the water well, and the sport you will get from the 9 lb. to
14 lb. salmon in the well-stocked river will be greatly enhanced. A
powerful 18 ft. Castleconnel will choke the fish unadvisedly. You might
as well use a sledge hammer to crack an egg. So, too, with sea trout,
a 14 ft. double-handed rod robs you of the better part of the sport
and gives you no real satisfaction. On the other hand, if, as you may
well do, you happen to get into a grilse or small salmon with your
small rod and forty yards of line, then the sport you get will be worth
living for, and will often recur to your remembrance in after times.
You will need all your knowledge and resource not to be broken; you
will in all probability have no gaff with you, and will have to tail
him out, or, better still, persuade him to kick himself ashore on a
shelving beach when played out. And it is extraordinary how little
pressure of the rod is needed in such cases to keep his head the right
way, and each kick and wriggle sends him further up the beach. Then
getting between him and the river, having laid down your rod, you can
put him out of his misery and despatch him.

A few seasons ago, when grouse shooting in the North, I was kindly
given an opportunity to fish the Glentana beats of the Dee. The river
was low, and as it was then early September, what fish were up were
red and ugly, but a change to the river side was welcome, and I had
never seen the pools in that part of the water. So, donning my waders,
I took with me a 10 ft. 6 in. rod, cane-built, by Walbran, some light
grilse and trout casts, and the smallest grilse flies I had by me. I
also fortunately put in my bag a small box of Test flies. Nothing had
been done for days in any of the Ballater waters, or indeed in any
part of that brawling river Dee. The few anglers who had gone out had
religiously kept to the orthodox salmon rod, salmon gut, and big flies,
and had caught nothing. When I got out of the dogcart and put up my
little rod I noticed a smile upon the river keeper's face, but nothing
daunted thereby, I followed him down the slopes to a beautiful pool
below.

I put on a baby Jock Scott, and fished the pool most carefully. At
the tail of the pool a big red fish gave a sullen kind of plunge, but
not at my fly, for it was not near him at the time. I put the Jock
Scott over him without result, and then tried him with a tiny Silver
Doctor; but he ignored that also; and so I wandered down from pool to
pool, learning a good deal of the river bed, owing to the lowness of
the water. After a bit, I saw what I took to be the rise of a trout on
the far side, so taking off my "Doctor," I opened my Test fly box and
examined its contents. I hit off a gold-ribbed hare's ear, dressed on
a 00 hook, which I thought might do, and wading out, had to make my
little rod do all it could to reach the required spot. I fished the
water above first, in order to soak my fly and make it sink. When I
reached the place where I thought I had seen the rise, I fished with
more care, and soon as my fly was working round below me, I felt a
vigorous tug; something had taken it under water without showing. I
was soon convinced that it was no trout that had laid hold, and got
ashore as quickly as I could, but I had only forty yards of line and a
little backing, so was soon compelled to take to the water again, as
my fish was playing sullenly on the far side of the stream. I put on
what pressure I dare in order to get on better terms with him, and this
roused him a bit, for a vigorous run up to the head of the pool nearly
ran my line out, although I was wading as deep as I dared do. My friend
the keeper now became interested, and waded in alongside me.

Though big, the fish was rather craven-hearted, and I was soon able to
get ashore again. However, his weight was great, and when he got into
the stream down he went into the next pool, I following, rod point up
and reel freely running. There were about forty minutes of this slow
kind of play and several incursions into the water, and then I began
to see my backing on the reel perilously diminishing. The 00 hook,
however, still held well, and at last I had the satisfaction of seeing
the big brute floundering on the surface. The keeper, meanwhile, had
gone lip to the house to get a gaff, and, walking backwards from the
river, I tried to drag the exhausted salmon within his reach; but,
although the rod point was about level with the reel, the dead weight
of the fish was more than I could manage. So my friend the keeper,
deploring the irreparable damage that must have been done to my rod,
waded in, thigh deep, and drove the steel into about as ugly and as red
an old cock fish as I have ever seen. His under jaw was crooked, and
he looked like an evil monster. He weighed just 17½ lb. As soon as the
strain was off my Walbran rod it sprang up as straight and as limber as
ever, to the great astonishment of the keeper, who had, oddly enough,
never come across a rod of that description. Burying our red fish in
the bracken, we went down a bit lower, and, two pools below the house,
got out another cock fish of 10 lb., and returning home secured a third
in the very same pool where I had caught the first; this proved to
be a hen fish of 12 lb. They were all red and ugly, but the last one
was, comparatively speaking, quite passable. As soon as she was gaffed
we looked up the first fish; he had turned quite black, and was a
gruesome sight. So, leaving the three fish with the keeper, to kipper
or do what he liked with, I got into the dogcart and drove home. Of
course, these fish would not have come to the gaff in the way they did
had they been spring fish, or lately arrived in the water; but, all the
circumstances being taken into account, the 21st September, 1900, will
always recur to my mind as a real sporting day. Sundry other salmon has
this little rod accounted for, and it is as true as steel and fit for
any fight.

Such incidents as these add very materially to the interest of sea
trout fishing, for, as I have said, you never can tell what your next
cast may produce. It is small wonder, therefore, that good sea trout
angling is so eagerly sought after and so hard to get. Your best chance
of getting such sport is to go a bit further afield, to the Shetland
Isles, the Orkneys, or somewhere a little out of the beaten track.

[Illustration: FINIS]

[Illustration]



_L'ENVOI_


_Seasons come and go, each in its turn bringing us nearer to the last,
those that remain for our enjoyment growing steadily and inevitably
fewer. But the instinct of sport, inbred in most of us, dies hard. I,
too, would echo Mr. Sydney Buxton's words, and hope that when my time
comes, and my loved rods hang useless in their cases, Old Charon will
permit me to loiter awhile on the Styx, and cast one last fly on its
dark and turgid waters._



ALSO BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

UNIFORM WITH "CHATS ON ANGLING."

STALKING SKETCHES.

With Numerous Illustrations by the Author.


CONTENTS.

       I.--INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER.
      II.--THE FOREST AND SANCTUARY.
     III.--THE STALKER.
      IV.--PERSONAL EQUIPMENT.
       V.--THE SHOT AND THE GRALLOCH.
      VI.--DEER AND THEIR ANTLERS.
     VII.--PECULIARITIES OF DEER.
    VIII.--HIND SHOOTING.
      IX.--DEERHOUNDS AND WOUNDED DEER.
       X.--THE SPIRACULA OF DEER.


ILLUSTRATIONS.

    OVER THE PASS (Frontispiece).
    BY THE LOCH SIDE.
    BRINGING HIM IN.
    THE POOL IN THE SANCTUARY.
    A FAMILY PARTY.
    A GOOD REST.
    CREEPING DOWN THE HILL.
    SPYING.     A WET CRAWL.
    A DOWN-HILL SHOT.
    HEAD OF RED DEER STAG (44 Points).
    CURIOUS ONE-HORNED STAG.
    DEFIANCE.
    THE HUMMEL AND THE HORNED STAG.
    SENTINELS OF THE FOREST.
    CHILDREN OF THE MIST.
    THE LAST ACT.


_EXTRACTS FROM PRESS NOTICES._

"The book will be found a welcome addition to the sportsman's
library."--_Liverpool Mercury._

"The author's full-page illustrations are delightful things--pictures
in the best sense of the word."--_Newcastle Chronicle._

"Capt. Hart-Davis's delightfully breezy pages contain, besides a
quantity of advice to novices, and, for that matter, others besides
novices, a number of excellently written accounts of stalks and good
stories of the 'hull.' The writer's pencil sketches add not a little
to the attractiveness of a volume that is sure to take its place
on the shelves of the enthusiastic stalker.... Every page contains
sound and wholesome advice on the sport and everything connected with
it."--_County Gentleman._

"The seventeen full-page illustrations are a pleasure to look at,
filled as they are with the very breath and spaciousness of the lonely
haunts of the deer."--_Glasgow Herald._

"Such a compleat stalker is Capt. Hart-Davis, and many who
view his hardier craft with scant interest, or even with scant
sympathy, may spend a delightful hour in looking over his admirable
drawings."--_Yorkshire Observer._

"The prime essential to make a book worth reading is that the author
should have familiar knowledge of his subject; but when he adds
just that degree of enthusiasm which renders him eloquent as well,
the reader deems himself fortunate. Capt. Hart-Davis, however, adds
a third grace, for he is his own artist likewise, and has drawn a
series of beautiful illustrations, rich in the true atmosphere of the
Highlands."--_Notts Guardian._

"Without bringing Landseer into comparison, there are a number of
drawings here, which for their presentment of stag and hind, of
moor and fell, and misty mountain side may fairly be placed against
anything of the kind from the pencils of Ansdell or Frederick
Taylor."--_Bookseller._

"One great merit that the book possesses is originality, for although
the subject is by no means new, the author's treatment of it imparts
a freshness which carries the reader from page to page with sustained
interest."--_The Field._

"His chapters on 'Personal Equipment' and 'The Shot' are excellent, and
ought to be closely studied by all novices at this sport."--_Sporting
and Dramatic News._

"Capt. Hart-Davis deserves thanks not only for what he has written and
sketched, but also for what his book suggests of the sport which holds
the first place in Scotland."--_Land and Water._

"The surroundings of stags in the forests of Scotland are excellently
represented in 'Stalking Sketches,' a reprint of articles contributed
to _The Field_, illustrated by the author's drawings, which for the
most part have considerable artistic merit. The articles justify
republication, being pleasantly written and full of sound advice....
The volume is attractively got up, and should please many besides
deerstalkers."--_Athenæum._

"Capt. Hart-Davis has now published in book form his very interesting
series of 'Stalking Sketches' which originally appeared in _The
Field_. The volume is very well illustrated with a number of full-page
original pictures by the author. Everyone interested in our forests and
stalking, whether through the good fortune of personal experience, or
merely through the literature of sport, will welcome these articles in
their present form."--_Dundee Advertiser._

"Sportsmen who love the red deer will give a ready welcome to this
readable book. It is on every page lively with the interest born of an
intimate practical knowledge of the sport, and is illustrated by many
drawings, which are not only noticeable from their artistic merits,
but have a didactic value of their own for naturalists and young
sportsmen. The work makes a valuable addition to the literature of its
subject."--_Scotsman._


    London: HORACE COX, Windsor House, Bream's Buildings, E.C.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired. All weights have a space between
the number and the "lb." This was also done with "ft." and "in."

Page 56, duplicate word "a" removed from text. Original read (a a
smiling rubicund)

Page 63, "circumstanses" changed to "circumstances" (upon several
circumstances)





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