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Dry-fly fishing on lochs and reservoirs


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One day many years ago, on a reedy tarn in the hospitable land of Islay, despair and weariness laid hold upon us, for the trout, usually keen and eager, seemed resolved to ignore all our efforts. The sun was hot, the breeze a mere zephyr, and the roar of the restless Sound two miles away could be faintly heard. Conditions were unpromising; but we had gone to fish and, it possible, to catch fish; therefore, though defeat complete and absolute appeared predestined, we refused to capitulate before a prolonged struggle. A blank day in Islay was, we understood, unthinkable rather than impossible, and now such an unhappy and extraordinary fate seemed imminent.

With a view to changing the luck we changed a fly, knotting on the ever deadly Butcher and, a little confidence and hope regained, we cast out upon the gently rippling water. The new fly floated, and we were just on the point of pulling it smartly beneath the surface when there appeared a ghost like form rising slowly through the rich brown water stained with the peat of the moorland. Ignoring the trio of sunken lures, the trout made straight for the dry pattern and sucked it down. The reel skirled vehemently as the nimble half-pounder tore off to the friendly shelter of a neighbouring belt of sighing reeds, but, having no desire to lose the prize so curiously won, we stopped the rush and steered the fish to the net. The fly was dried and sent out again upon the waters; again it enticed an equally agile trout from the depths.

Hints such as these are meant to be taken. Hurriedly we removed the wet-flies from the cast and to it attached two floating patterns, a Green - well's Glory and a Red Quill, from a little assortment that goes with us wherever we go. Round the loch we worked contentedly, laying the flies along the edge of reeds and on any open water, not in answer to any invitation, but just as fancy decreed, and the day that promised so badly proved to be one of the best.

The possibilities of the dry-fly as a lure for the loch, so clearly demonstrated on that occasion, have since been frequently and successfully put to the test, and the result is that a large selection of dry-flies and all the attendant necessaries now invariably accompany the usual impedimenta on any loch- fishing expedition. It has been many a time abundantly proved that, under certain conditions, the floating fly is as productive of sport on lochs as ft undoubtedly is on running water. Nor is it of limited application. It can be profitably used in calm and in storm, when trout are rising to the surface, and often too when no sign of life is visible. The trout n lochs differ in many respects from their relatives of the stream, more particularly in their habits of feeding. The river-trout appears to know that, if he allows a fly to float past, he will not have another opportunity of securing it; there fore, when really intent on feeding, he may take anything and everything that comes along intending to discard it immediately if in any way not to his liking. From the behaviour of loch-trout one is inclined, on the other hand, to conclude that they are perfectly aware that floating flies can be safely neglected, until either the subaqueous food-supplies are exhausted for the time being, or rival trout begin to seek what is on the surface. Thus necessity or jealousy is accountable for the remarkable unanimity displayed by the trout inhabiting still water. They do not know that the sub-imagines of the Ephemeridae in time leave the loch altogether, or perhaps they know more than that, viz. that as fully developed spinners the flies must return.

We think that the wet-fly is the more consistently useful lure on the loch, and that for many reasons. It may represent so many forms of life on which the trout feed, larvae, shrimps, diminutive fry, descending or ascending egg-laying flies, corixae, and other denizens of the aquatic world; as it moves regularly or erratically it may suggest to a trout something striving to flee its dangerous vicinity; it may, as it turns, emit a flash from tinsel, wing, or hackle, that makes a resting fish awake to life and energy.

The trout find all around them the food they need, the larva; of sedge and dun, that arise straight to the surface, must be very numerous indeed, when any escape their attentions; only those that seek the shores under cover of the gravel manage to elude them. Therefore the wet-fly kills well as a general rule. Sometimes it must be sunk very low - in some lochs the trout will scarcely take a fly cast to them, but will accept it eagerly if trailed behind the boat at the end of a long line - and on other occasions it must be fished high; the method depends on the nature of the creatures the trout are pursuing. But we must not allow ourselves to be lured away from our subject by the glories and possibilities of the wet-fly.

The dry-fly often proves irresistible, f it is allowed to float absolutely at rest in calm water for a full minute, and then is suddenly jerked an inch or two by the left hand pulling on the line. The trout seems to argue that here is a fly, which it meant to attend to later, making endeavours to escape.

The time to fish the dry-fly on a loch is not necessarily when plenty of flies are on evidence, but rather when nymphal activity has ceased, and the trout turn their attentions to the surface. We have seen the loch not once but times without number covered with flies and not a trout moving to them; we had good sport with the wet-fly amongst the larvae-chasing fish, and then, by changing to the dry-fly when the trout began to rise to the winged insects, we continued to enjoy ourselves.

Some lochs produce few flies and others many; but in all that we have seen, the dry-fly gets its opportunity sometimes, and then the wet-fly is almost useless. calm is emphatically not the signal that betokens the advent of that opportunity, though that is still a prevalent idea; flies hatch and also float when waves are high, as well as when the loch is smooth and flat, but whenever and wherever the trout rise, the floater scores.

We know one angler who, tired of casting on a trying day of May his unavailing flies over trout rising, in an Argyllshire loch, with aggravating freedom to natural flies but showing complete indifference to his, reminded himself of what he had read regarding the efficacy of the floating fly. Retrieving his cast, he anointed his trio of flies, Peter Ross, Grouse and Green, and the Zulu, and sent them out to ride the wavelets, and the result of his experiment well-nigh converted bun on the spot into an enthusiastic dry-fly purist.

Peter Ross is a grand wet-fly for the tail of a cast. but whatever the inventor had in view when he designed it, Lt was certainly not a fly; Grouse and Green is a member of the Trichoptera, that hatches generally in August. The Zulu is probably the best bob-fly that can be made to skip across the waves of a hill-loch; but what it imitates we cannot guess.

On the cast there was only one fly, and it was only three months premature; yet all three killed well, for the simple reason that they were on the surface, and so resembled in one highly important particular the flies that were occasioning the rise. It is as well to add that another angler who persisted that day with wet-flies fished wet had by comparison only mediocre sport.

We could give innumerable instances out of our own experience of the dry-fly thoroughly vanquishing the wet-fly, when a rise was taking place; but we cannot recall a single occasion when the advantage was reversed. Even at times in the absence of a rise we have done well with the floating fly, when the sunken variety would not lure a single trout.

For dry-fly fishing in lochs the cast should be made of carefully selected gut and should be as long as the rod. It should consist of 2x gut for half its length, and the other half may be tapered up to any thickness desired. That strength is as fine as there is any necessity for, except perhaps on well-fished reservoirs, in which the trout may have developed a shyness comparable with that exhibited by their brethren of the river. In judging the strength of the dry-fly cast required for loch-trout, one must bear in mind that a rise is generally expected, as the fly has probably been presented to a visible feeding fish, and therefore It is in all likelihood answered with promptitude, perhaps also with at least a little unnecessary vigour. The rise is unmistakable, the line tight, the angler on the alert, therefore the cast should be able to stand the sudden call made upon it. Some may think 2x gut rather fine for loch-trout, but as it is, with careful treatment, quite capable of dealing with all but most exceptional fish, no greater strength need be used, by any angler who desires sport from the trout he hooks.

Two flies, three or four feet apart, should be tied to the cast, as the arguments used in support of that number for the river apply with even greater force to the loch. The dropper-fly need never be removed, except when the angler is poking among reeds and weeds, and unless he is terrified at the prospect of hooking two trout simultaneously.

It is possible that the beginner will feel himself compelled to use flies of a larger size than he is accustomed to use on the river, mainly because the wet-flies generally used on lochs are distinctly larger than river patterns. There is no necessity for adding to the number or size of the flies already given; In fact, one very useful fly on the loch is the smallest of all, viz. the Badger Hackle; but if a bigger fly endows him with greater confidence, he should by all means obtain exactly what pleases him. At the same time, we think he will not please the trout any better.

The remainder of the apparatus recommended for the river, the treatment of the line, cast, and flies suggested, wall serve perfectly for the loch. If the angler proposes to fish both wet-fly and dry-fly according as the conditions inform, and, if he is sensible, he will confine himself to neither the one nor the other, he should provide himself with two rods, reels, and lines, or at least with an extra reel and line. The dressing that he puts on his dry-fly line makes it unsatisfactory to some extent for wet-fly fishing, because at times it is very necessary to make the wet-flies sink deeply in order to reach the trout prowling about the lower depths in search of various subaqueous creatures. The floating agent can be removed; but frequently he will desire to change from dry-fly to wet and back again, and he will sometimes be annoyed at the loss of time involved in attending to his line.

The angler will observe that there is one great point of difference between the loch and the river. On a running stream he casts his fly as a, rule at least a short distance beyond his prospective victim and allows it to float down, but on still water he endeavours to place it right into the centre of the rings formed by the rising trout, where he may leave it for a considerable time. Then drag can trouble the loch-fisher, the shorter the length of undressed gut or line, the longer will the fly float naturally. As on the river so on the loch, wind acting upon his line will affect his fly, but drag caused by the water itself is unknown, therefore difficulties are very much reduced in number.

To fish a loch satisfactorily from a boat one should have the sole use of it, as otherwise, while he may have congenial company, he handicaps himself to a considerable extent and loses many glorious opportunities. Of course one of the great attractions in loch-fishing lies in the fact that it is possible to be in close proximity to a brother or sister angler with whom may be shared the joys or sorrows of the day, but some always, and all sometimes, prefer to be alone with their thoughts, especially when dry-fly fishing.

Frequently when a dead calm rests upon the loch, the water is dotted all over with the rings of the feeding trout, and such a happy combination of circumstances should be hailed with delight, whereas usually it occasions nothing but complaining groans. The angler should then seat himself low in the bow, instruct his boatman to row very slowly and quietly ahead - 'Such injunctions are often imperfectly understood - -and content himself with such fish as are within his reach. By so doing he will have quite an exciting time, and, provided that he is not flurried in his movements, the basket will soon acquire an agreeable weight.

If he sees what he considers to be an exceptionally fine specimen rising afar off, he is apt to tell the boatman to set off in pursuit; both are so eager, the one with the oars and the other with the rod, that in all probability both miss the mark. Unless both can keep themselves in control, a very difficult thing to do in the circumstances, when so much is at stake and speed seems desirable, such action will result only in vexation and disappointment. It is much better to maintain the course agreed upon and to refuse to be led away from the straight path by any rise, however tempting it may be.

If, on the other hand, a fine fishing breeze is curling the water, and trout are frequently showing, the angler should be in the stern; the boat may be allowed to drift as usual, or it may be held up to the wind. Some boatmen can work their craft to perfection, making it hover over a fruitful spot, while the angler gets many chances of laying his flies exactly where they should be placed, and men of that type deserve the major portion of the credit for the day's spoils.

The flies should not be cast straight down wind, unless a fish rise in the track of the drilling boat; they should rather be sent out between the boat and the wind, at an angle of 45 degrees perhaps, because they are thus more readily kept tight to the line and the rod, making a strike more certain of success. Above all things, the angler must remember not to aim for the surface; a trout rising within his distance unexpectedly is very likely to make him forget for the moment the great necessity for delicacy in the fall of the fly.

In lochs where such a thing is practicable, dry-fly fishing from the bank is by far the more interesting method. The monotony of the drifting boat is done away with, and the variety of the ever-changing coastline is agreeable. How easily the hours slip past as one wanders round, casting the flies out upon the water, raising even only an occasional trout, with now and then a greater success.

So far as we can recollect we have not fished from the bank if a boat was available, except on a very few occasions when gales were tossing the waves about and making a voyage highly dangerous. As it happens, we have no knowledge of the sensations produced by an attempt to search the waters of our largest lochs without the assistance of a boat, but we imagine that, while a lucky choice of a really good point might result in satisfactory sport even on Loch Lomond, the insignificance of the little area within reach in relation to the immense extent within view would have such a depressing influence upon us that we would be forced away in despair.

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