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Fly-fishing


The Salmon, Hints on Fishing for.
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The salmon is undoubtedly and pre-eminently the monarch of the rivers and the streams. His size, vigour, grace, and proportion stamp him as the noblest Roman of them all." Out of the water he has long enjoyed the highest reputation; but until recently he has been simply the illustrious stranger, of whose good qualities we saw and acknowledged, but of whose history we were ignorant. We have been guilty of such gross mistakes respecting this noble fish, that, until a short time since, we were literally extirpating the salmon from our rivers. Now, however, a better system prevails under improved knowledge. Even now but few fishermen can tell how many different species of this magnificent and common fish there are in British watery. Nay, even professed ichthyologists have been at fault on this matter. Mr Garnell, in a comparatively late edition of his work on " British Fishes," gives but six species, whereas the best and latest work on the subject, " Couch's British Fishes," gives us twelve good and distinct species of salmon and trout, as indigenous to the United Kingdom. They are as follows: -

Migratory Species:

The Salmon (Salmo salar, Lin.)
The Salmon Peal - which is the salmon trout of Yarrell, who has confounded it with the true salmon trout (S. trutta, Lin.)
The Sewin (S. Cambria's, Don.), which appears to be exclusively confined to the rivers of the Welsh coast.
The Sea Trout or Bull Trout (S. eriox, Lin.)
The Salmon Trout (S. gracilis, Lin.)
The Slender Salmon (S. gracilis, Couch.)
The Blue Pole (S. albres, Flem.)

Non-Migrants.

The Lake Trout (S. ferox, Jard.)
The Common Trout (S. ferox, Lin.)
The Gillaroo or Gizzard Trout. Thomson. Irish.
The Lochleven Trout (S. coecifer, Parn.) Scotland.
The Parr (S. salmulus, Will.)

With respect to the latter, it has always been considered to be the young of the salmon. Mr Couch, however, classes it as a good and distinct species, and describes many distinguishing marks between the parr and the samlet, amongst which may be mentioned that the bones of the samlet are soft, whilst those of the parr are stout and hard. Mr Couch also states that the latter are not nearly so common a fish as is generally supposed. These twelve species of salmon may all be caught by the angler. They furnish him with the highest sport, amidst the most lovely and picturesque scenery; but above ail, the capture of a large- sized salmon with the frail tackle of the angler demands an amount of skill, perseverance, and adaptation of means to a given end which is not often met with. It is no wonder that high prices are paid for the right of fishing for salmon, and that distant waters are visited for the purpose of enjoying this exiting sport. I shall never forget the thrill of delight with which I viewed the first salmon which fell a victim to my angling skill, under the shadow, as it were, of the old Cummeraghs, and within the sound of the hoarse surge of the Atlantic billows. I have a thousand memories haunting the spot, and a thousand kindnesses to acknowledge; but, alas! numbers of those who were with me thon are in distant lands, and others gone to the " land of the leal and my darling golden-haired first-born rests in the sunny church-yard overlooking the vale. I next tried my 'prentice hand in the Fergus, and I have not been unsuccessful in the queenly Shannon.

Leaving the history of the salmon to other and abler pens, I may be permitted to describe the approved method of capturing this princely fish. I will take the rod as the first, if not the most essential portion, of the salmon fisher's equipment. In my remarks on rods in general, I have described the principle on which a rod should be made, and the material of which it should be constructed. A salmon rod should be from sixteen to eighteen feet long. Though not one of the shortest or weakest of mankind, I have found the twenty-feet rod sometimes become too tiresome and unwieldy for daily use. A rod eighteen feet long at the outside, with a top of greenheart or of split bamboo, springing gracefully from top to butt, balanced with a winch containing from eighty to a hundred yards of stout line, is one that would delight the heart of the most ardent brother of the angle. The winch may be one of those containing a break spring, ot what the makers call a spring water. The new composition reel, which is at once light, compact, easily worked, not deranged by heat or water, seems to have every essential quality of a good reel, though time air he can prove its endurance. The running line should be of plaited silk, and the casting line of the strongest gut - the three-ply twisted is generally recommended. The fly-cast should be of the strongest single gut, well tested, and selected with great care. The lengths may be joined together with the single fisherman's knot; but the knot elsewhere described, with a buffer whipping, is the best of all. Salmon flies are dressed somewhat differently to those used fur trout. They are so whipped as to leave a small but strong loop of stout gut at the extreme end of the shank, close to the head of the fly. The end of the fly-cast is slipped through this, and knotted with a single knot; a running hitch-knot is then made round the gut, and, when drawn tight, makes a strong neat compact knot which, while firm, admits of the fly being changed easily when required. Some anglers attach a drop-fly some four feet from the end by, but the best anglers do not. One fly will be found quite enough to manœuvre and manage properly by the tyro in salmon-fishing.

Ere we proceed to the consideration of the flies themselves, and the hooks on which they ought to be dressed, perhaps the method of casting a salmon-line and manoeuvring the flies ought to be considered, as they differ somewhat from the ordinary fly-fishing, in consequence of the greater length and weight both of the rod and the line, twenty-five and even thirty yards of line having been frequently thrown by skilled anglers. The best and clearest directions for salmon-casting are those given by Ephemera, a well-known angler in salmon livers, and an author of no little repute. He says, -

" The salmon rod is to be held with both hands, one above, and the other below, the winch. In throwing from the right side, the right hand is to grasp the rod above the winch, the left below it. In casting from the left shoulder, the left hand is to be first, and the right last; that is, it must clutch the rod between the winch and the extreme butt-end of the rod. In fishing down a river on its right side, the left shoulder cast is to be used; in fishing from the left bank, the right shoulder throw is the proper one. Stand at the head of a stream, looking down it as it runs from you, the. bank on your right side is the right-hand bank, that on the left the left-hand shore. In ascending a river, the left-hand bank is on your right side, and the right-hand bank on your left. This explanation may be deemed superfluous, but I fancy it will enable me hereinafter to be more perspicuous than if had not given it.

"I'll suppose the salmon-fisher coming down the right side of a river, and that above him, to his right, are cliffs or trees, - how can he bring back to that side over his right shoulder, rod and line, without causing them to come into collision with the impediments behind him on his right 1 lie can do so in two ways, - the first in greater part wrong, the other perfectly right. The first and imperfect way I call the back-handed cast. It is performed thus: - The point of the rod hold nearly perpendicularly up before you; the forward and upward slanting direction being very slight, indeed; the point of the rod is swept to the left, and with it the line to its entire development; then the hands, no, not both, but the right one, wrist and fore-arm are turned over, backwards, to the right, and the rod brought round in the same direction; the lino is turned over circularly, and propelled down or obliquely across the current. I frequently throw in this way, for the purpose merely of easing the arms, fatigued from the monotonous action of throwing overhand from the right or left shoulder. It will be seen that the effect of this throw will be to carry the line clear from the bank over the current's course, and cause it to alight- down stream to the right. Notwithstanding, the action of the arms must be cramped, for it is reversed in the overhanded throw, and the cast must be very limited in extent. Besides, when fishing from the right bank of a river, the fly can never be so neatly worked against the water with the right hand holding the rod above the which, as when the left hand holds it there."

The second method of casting from the right bank, and which is the proper one, I will now explain: -

"You hold your rod, the left hand being above the winch, and the right one beneath it; left leg foremost, and left side towards the river.

"You bring your rod round, by, over, and beyond the point of your left shoulder, which motion will carry the line to its full extent upwards over the bed of the river, and feeling that the line is so extended, you bring back a little, in the direction you are going to cast, the point of the rod, and making use chiefly of the action of the left arm, you propel the line forward by a motion you give the rod, as if you were going to strike at something hovering in the air before you the forward motion of the rod will be checked at a short distance, unless you bend forward with it, and the line, will be sent straight out, the fly and gut-line to which it is attached coming first in contact with the water.

" Giving the arms and bending the body too much with the rod, in making the cast, is a very bad habit, as it brings the point of the rod too close to the surface of the water, deadens its elasticity, and causes the line to fall in a loose and slovenly manner on the water. This left shoulder cast is only absolutely necessary when you are fishing from beneath the right bank of a river, and have behind you impediments to a right-hand sweep of your rod and line. If the right bank be flat or shelving, if it be clear of obstructions, I can see no material objection to right-shoulder casting from off it.

"The straight right-shoulder cast is done thus: - The right hand holds the rod above the winch, the left below it, the right side is next the river, and of course the right foot is foremost. You bring your rod and line boldly and freely in a fine, easy, wide, semicircular sweep over your right shoulder, and then you send them forwards by communicating to the right fore-arm sharp action, as if you were going to Lit something elevated before you with the soft part of your closed hand, on the little finger side.

"If all this compound action - bringing back the rod and line over the right shoulder, and then sharply sending them forward - be performed dashingly and energetically, without nervousness, stint of sweep and strength, your fly will be sent straight away to its destination, similarly to, but not so swiftly as an arrow shot from above at, an object sitting beneath you on the water, at a distance of five-and- twenty or thirty yards. The straight casts, whether from the left or right shoulder, are, generally speaking, the best. At any rate, executed by a proficient, they are always the neatest, and should by beginners be the first, learnt and practised to perfection.

"They can be performed with great accuracy, so as to enable the angler to determine almost to an inch the precise spot on which his fly is to fall. They cause the fly and casting-line to touch the water first, and enable you to commence working the fly, or showing it to the fish, sooner than you could do if much of the winch-line came in contact with the water simultaneously with the casting-line. The effect of the straight-cast is less disturbance to the water than that of any species of cast; the only defect that can be attached to it is, that you cannot by its means throw so far as by using the side, or rolling-cast, but you can throw it more neatly.

"Your fly and gut line must fall always first upon the water, and not roll on to it by means of the winch-line first coming into contact with the liquid surface. The rolling descent of the line and fly should be avoided totis veribus, with mortal might and main. The error of the majority of salmon-fishers lies in their working the fly through the water with too much force and rapidity. I am told, and I have reason to believe it from some personal observation, that the error is more frequently committed by Irish salmon-fishers than by Scotch. The latter, however, perpetrate it commonly enough to be adjudged sinners requiring earnest admonition. I advise gentle working of the fly through and against the water, with no more action than is required to display before the eyes of the fish the artificial bait attractively; with no more speedy power than can be easily compassed by a pursuing fish."

These remarks embody the essential principles of casting the salmon-fly. With respect to the manoeuvring the fly on the water, there is no such differences of opinion as in fishing for trout. There are no up and down stream-men. The fly must not be allowed to float down with the current, but worked up against it, up and down beneath the surface of the water, not dangled on the top, as in dipping. The rod must not be allowed to remain still, but work up and down, gradually drawing the fly towards the point of the rod, up stream, until it sweeps over the possible haunts of the salmon. The fly, under this motion, seems like a thing of life from the action of the water, and when the waters are high and cloudy, a- large fly possesses an attraction which few salmon can resist. It will be obvious, that with the tip of the rod lower in proportion than in trout-fishing, the angler has no light work to perform when fishing for salmon.

The salmon-fisher must never be disheartened. If there are salmon in the water, there is a chance of catching them by any one possessing the necessary skill, and no little perseverance. With a creature so impulsive, the angler need never despair. Even though the stream runs pure as crystal, and the water is low, fine tackle and suitable flies v ill do wonders.

He will sometimes rise at your fly, refuse it, and come again. This will try tire angler's patience, test his experience, and prove his skill. Do not be in a hurry; haste may spoil all. Some able sportsmen will say - Cover him again directly;" others advocate a few minutes' rest. Perhaps the latter is the best plan in well-fished waters. Again and again will Mr Salmon rise at the tempting bait, and still refuse it, and yet be hooked at last. If he should refuse altogether let him remain quiet for a few minutes, and try a fresh fly. If this does not tempt him, try a smaller fly of the first pattern, and work the fly so that it sinks a few inches beneath the surface. At length he will show his " silvery sides " in earnest. If you can help it, do not strike in a hurry, or you may jerk the fly from him. Watch for the turn after he has seized the bait, and then strike. If you feel the fish before this occurs, you will of course strike at once. The rattle of the reel announces that the contest has begun. If the salmon is fresh run, he will seize the bait with eagerness, and hook himself. When the water is low and bright much judgment is required; fur too much haste in striking will spoil all.

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