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Trout stalking


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The trout is a wary animal, extremely suspicious of the human form, and when, as in the height of summer, he is well-fed and therefore under no compelling necessity to accept anything which arouses within him the slightest doubt, there is no creature of the wild more difficult of approach or more ready to take alarm.

In certain streams, smooth and placid, whose banks are much frequented, trout may, it is said, become so accustomed to the sight of man that they remain totally unperturbed by his presence, and will enjoy, with the utmost indifference to a crowd of spectators, a banquet of flies or nymphae. The merest glimpse of a waving rod, the slightest flicker of light from gossamer gut, the least deviation of a fly from the true path will, any one of them, suffice to tell these trout that danger in the form of an angler has arrived, for, despite their seeming nonchalance, they are fully alive to the perils that surround them. They are even more difficult to lure than their brethren of the wild moorland solitudes, who, though they recognise an enemy in every man, and arc therefore to be approached with the greatest caution, are not quite so well versed in the angler's wiles or so able to distinguish the signs of his dangerous presence.

At times, as in the chalk-stream so in the distant burns, the headwaters of rivers such as Clyde and Tweed, and m their lesser tributaries, fished the whole season through by appalling numbers of accomplished anglers, trout must be carefully stalked if they are ultimately to find their way into the creel.

A more interesting or pleasant sport than trout- stalking has never been devised. Not only must the angler's presence be concealed from the fish, those referred to above being alone excepted, but his purpose must likewise always and everywhere be unsuspected. The inherent shyness of the quarry, their power to read unerringly the meaning of a wave across the pool, and determine the cause of any vibration of the bank, their ability to see with excessive clearness within a field which, though somewhat circumscribed, is still all too large in the angler's estimation, all combine in their defence and render a successful attack a matter of supreme difficulty.

Nor does the attractiveness of the sport end there. It is conducted under summer skies blue and bright, amid the riotous confusion of the water's edge where every living thing is happy. The cuckoo may mock at our defeats, but the curlew's lonely call cheers and bids us try again; the sand piper runs along the gravel, as if to give warning of our coming; the kingfisher flashes past, a sun lit jewel. We have but one enemy among the birds, the tantalising water-hen, who from among the rushes watches us sink stealthily into hiding, and then, laughing, scuttles out across the pool.

We lay down the following requirements which seem all to be demanded, before one is entitled to consider himself engaged in the fascinating sport. The approach and concealment must entail some departure from ordinary procedure; the water must be at lowest summer level; the individual trout sought after must be a rising fish and a worthy specimen of long experience; the surroundings must call for care and study in the accurate placing of a fly, and will in general favour the trout more than the angler. The latter may, if he can, and must if he is to achieve success, remove by the adoption of certain tactics the disadvantage under which he is placed. A big take will not denote that the angler is possessed of extraordinary skill; rather will it signify that one at least of the necessary conditions has been absent.

In our larger rivers, broad and deep, it is generally necessary for the angler to wade in order to reach a feeding trout; the depth of water- from which he must operate will place him beneath the range of vision of a trout, and therefore it is ridiculous in such circumstances to talk of stalking. The term is wholly inapplicable. It is not even essential to fish upstream in these rivers, the breadth and depth of the water being sufficient to ensure the obtaining, without thought or effort, of the first requirement, viz. the concealment of the angler. Of course, even m the largest river there are tricky little corners, inhabited by fine fish, whose excessive cunning can be overcome only by the greatest skill; but these are exceptional places. Since we have laid it down that the trout- stalker must exercise great care in approaching the water, and experience difficulty in reaching his casting position without the trout suspecting his presence, we decide that the art is confined to the smaller streams.

On the River Ardle in Perthshire, above the Bridge of Cally, there is a truly delightful piece of water, a long pool formed by a cauld built diagonally across the stream. On the deep side heavily bushed the trout lie in a gentle current. They are not large, a pounder being most exceptional, but they have a fair experience, that being a function of age rather than of weight, and are therefore well worthy of capture. On our first visit up the stream we saw them, confident and secure, rising lazily to take down flies and generally conducting themselves after the manner of two-pounders, and they at once acquired great importance. We found that an attack from behind the tall bushes was impossible to carry out, that the water at the lower end was too deep to wade, and that walking along the top of the cauld exposed us to the view of the trout.

Next day we transferred our position to the bottom of the stony bank, and thus failure was converted into success. We waded through the white rushing water, gradually lengthening line as we advanced and as the pool broadened out, until we were able to slip over the cauld into shallower water, from which we fished out the pool to the neck. On that occasion and thereafter, as a result of these tactics, we took out an astonishing number of trout, of a size much above the average for the water, from which we concluded that parts at least of the pool were seldom, if ever, fished, and that the trout had not learned to suspect a floating fly. It was a curious experience casting into water so much above the accustomed level, and reaching up with the net for trout at the edge of the overflow also presented difficulties.

In the Clyde, a short distance above Elvanfoot, where the great river is still only a small stream, we once captured a beautiful pound trout, of which at the time we felt extremely proud. We were progressing quietly upstream, casting the dry-fly at a venture, when we became aware of the fish rising regularly at the tail of the next pool. It occupied what we should even yet consider a difficult position, namely the last yard of a steep swelling glide immediately before the break into the headlong rush. There was no cover available on the bank that seemed sufficient, and In any case it would have proved use less, because it was obvious that if we cast to the trout as usual, the moment the line touched the water it would sweep down the fly with a drag certain to strike terror into the heart of a two- year-old.

We left the water, and after a detour entered the pool far above the industrious trout. Wading cautiously as deeply as we dared and crouching low as we moved forward to our selected post, we switched the fly across and down at the end of a very slack, well-fatted line; the gentle current slowly straightened out the line, and the fly approached ever nearer and at increasing pace towards its goal. Direction of the cast called for no attention, as the waters gradually converged to the narrow channel where the trout waited. At the critical moment the fatal drag threatened to intervene and swamp the fly, but by reaching forward with the rod we managed to prevent disaster. All unsuspecting the trout took the fly, and the reel broke the gloaming silence. The fact that the light had begun to fade no doubt contributed to the trout's downfall; but satisfaction was nevertheless completely justifiable, for the incident occurred many years ago, when we were first learning to know and respect the trout of Clyde.

The situations dealt with arc uncommon; but they serve to illustrate all the more clearly that trout sometimes take up positions which render it imperative for the angler to adopt special measures to ensure that neither his presence nor the character of his lure will be disclosed. At all times it is necessary for him to remain invisible to the trout, until and even after the hook is home, but occasionally, especially on smaller streams, concealment is difficult to arrange. Not always will he find the required protective covering on the bank, though, whenever it is at hand in the form of bush, rock, or clump of rushes, he will probably accept it without further thought. We have, however, strong objections to the elevated position of the bank, and much prefer to be on or below the level of the water.

Whenever we get the opportunity, we like to work along the base of a high right bank, as we imagine that the background of grass and exposed soil confers invisibility. The rod, when not in actual use, should in such a case be carried pointing downstream. The left bank is equal1 y good for those who are ambidextrous. If, owing to depth of water and absence of any foothold, such a procedure is impracticable, then it is necessary to conduct the stalking from the top of the bank or from the opposite side. In most cases we select the former.

By crawling along about a yard from the edge, one may approach so closely to feeding trout as to be able to observe their every movement - and very exciting it is to see a big fish daintily selecting its food. The rod, however, is a source of danger. If the ordinary overhead cast is used, the scaring of the trout is almost inevitable, but the underhand cast, in the execution of which the forward movement of the rod is stopped when it points out horizontally across the stream at right angles to the bank, will very frequently produce the desired result. Much practice is required with this cast, before one can lay with unfailing regularity a fly on a given mark; but perfection in the art is a valuable possession, worthy a large expenditure of time and tremble to acquire.

The great trouble often experienced, the losses incurred, in attempting to land trout caught under unusual circumstances should be considered as adding to the excitement of the, sport. We have known of anglers who leave certain corners un tried, because they are deterred by the difficulties, or convinced of the impossibility of bringing a trout to the net. They should solve each problem as it arises, and the first is the hooking of the fish; the second may solve itself. One single success might conceivably convert a forbidding place into a favourite cast.

In some waters there are long smooth flats only a few inches deep which yet contain very fine trout. To take a specimen from the inflowing stream is an easy matter, almost a, foregone conclusion, if a rise is in progress; but to lure one from the tail of the flat, where the surface is as glass and the current barely perceptible, is a worthy ambition, and not at all impossible of realisation. Some of the older authorities on angling advise the fisher to pass over such places as being utterly hopeless; but no one should accept defeat with out a trial. A rising fish can be caught by any one possessed of the necessary skill, and that skill will never be acquired, unless it is developed by careful attempts to capture trout from unpromising places. The angler who will accept that as true, and refuses to be discouraged even by many defeats, will in time find himself enjoying, most glorious sport in water which he used to consider could not yield a trout to the greatest expert.

It is admittedly difficult to lay a fly on shallow, flat water with delicacy sufficient to bring forth agreeable response; but frequent practice will make it possible. The fact that the water is always to some extent disturbed by a rising fish assists the angler, who should place his fly at once and exactly on the rise, not some distance beyond it, as he would in a deep or fast-flowing stretch. The answering rise, if it comes at all, is instantaneous; the strike should follow as quickly.

There is another difficulty. If the angler blunders up the gravel to the water's edge, then long before he comes within his casting distance the trout become aware of his presence and flee for refuge to their hiding-places under the bank or in some deeper corner of the pool. Any skill he may possess is now of no avail. He should instead survey the scene from safe range, study the rising fish, mark clearly the most desirable, and set him self the pleasant task of attempting its down fall. As at most only one capture is likely to be effected in such thin water, why should it not be the best? He may make a mistake in his deductions from the spreading rings, but his satisfaction will be m no wise diminished, for he will probably remain in ignorance of the error.

His selected victim will in all likelihood be rising close, to the bank, as that is the position favoured by big trout. If that bank happens to be the right, he should lay his fly lightly on the grass or rock overhanging the fateful mark, and then, after an interval of a few seconds, lie should bring it to the water, not, however, by any raising or other movement of the rod, but by gently pulling on the line with the left hand. The fly may refuse to leave the grass, in which case the pool is lost, as he will probably be unable to retrieve his fly without exposing himself to view.

Should the trout occupy a station under the left bank it is a less easy conquest. The fish in such open flats as we are discussing will see the angler, unless he is immediately behind them; that is to say, he must be cm or close to the same bank as the trout. He who is able to cast left-handed will adopt the plan already recommended; almost anyone is able to execute this east sufficiently well if he will assist his left hand by supporting the extreme end of the rod with his right. If he does not care to try this, a lucky back-handed switch may land the fly where it is wanted, and bring him fortune.

In stalking trout in deeper and also faster water, there is another matter of paramount importance, one which might not occur to the angler, and that is the moment which he should select for presenting his fly. Many consider that the sooner the fly reaches the mark the greater is the prospect of success, and that is certainly some times true, as seen above, but more usually no greater mistake in tactics can be made. This unreasoning haste is the direct, though often un suspected, cause of many defeats, not that it results in a clumsy cast, which is not unlikely, but because the fly alights where the trout is not, or when it is not engaged in watching the surface.

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