Concerning the wind
How is the fly-fisher's sport affected by the wind, its strength, direction, and temperature? That question has exercised the minds of anglers of all times and probably it will form a subject for discussion and debate as long as there remain rivers to fish and fish to catch.
Some anglers profess a strong preference for a complete absence of wind. Such a declaration must have rather a disquieting effect on great numbers, who, while able to capture many trout in the course of a season, find it impossible to extend a line at all, unless they are assisted by a friendly breeze. It need not occasion surprise to anyone to learn that what he considers a magnificent opportunity another looks upon as a hopeless condition. Many have formed the opinion that trout are not to be caught unless the surface is ruffled, and there fore they see no necessity for practising the art of casting in a, calm, an art not difficult to acquire, but still one demanding training. Beliefs firmly established are not readily eradicated.
The smooth, brilliant mirror of the loch has a depressing rather than an uplifting effect on the angler. While he proceeds towards the scene of his day's pleasure, oil the road or across the moor, he already feels that victory is to be denied; for the hot, still all, the unclouded sky, the gleaming sun shine make him dispirited, and, long before he arrives, he decides that the trout will feel even as he feels. When at length he reaches his destination by the water's edge, he cannot display his wonted eagerness; rather does he lie within the shade of leafy trees than nervously and excitedly fit the rod together. He does not show impatience at delays incurred m launching the boat; there is little likelihood that anxious haste will result in him entangling his cast into confusion.
Not a single dimple of a rise disturbs the broad expanse spreading before his gaze, and he begins to wish that the unfortunate expedition had been prevented; but, as he watches, he feels a slight breath of all. Away to the foot of the loch he sees a black line stretching across, moving nearer and rapidly nearer towards him. Preparations are completed in a hurry; the boatman pushes off, and the sound of the wavelets lapping is like the merriest laughter. Down the breeze the. cast flies out, as the boat is driven across to the chosen drift, for the angler must do something to conceal his excitement.
Before the favoured stretch is reached, the breeze dies away, and the boat is becalmed. A pair of disappointed men discontentedly while away the time, with tales of the glorious past, but their eyes silently and continuously appeal to every glen.
In the next bay the calm surface is observed to be disturbed; oars are plied strongly for the goal; but, in answer to the invitation of a roughening patch to port or starboard, the course is immediately changed. A fish may be picked up; whether or nut, as the water again flattens out, another race for the nearest ripple begins.
We too have chased the wind about the loch many a weary time, and we have seen others engaged at the same tiring game. Never have we been privileged to see an angler fleeing, as quickly as oars could take him, from the rippled areas to his heart's delight in the calm glassy belts.
Let us suppose, on the other hand, that the summer day is bright and breezy. Sport may or may not be good, so many other circumstances contribute favourable or adverse influences, but in every case the angler, who is at liberty to remain beside the waters, looks forward to the evening. Hopefulness is then at its highest. We always are filled with expectation, and though the joys we anticipate are not always granted, yet faith continues, and ever will continue, to be born within us despite occasional disappointments. The gloaming hour has been an uninterrupted delight, the glory of a whole season, the memory that has kept us cheerful throughout a winter. Then '.t is that we can almost agree with those who declare a calm is best.
If fish rise well, but not too well, in a calm we are really happy; but should even the gentlest of breezes blow at eventide, raising the tiniest of ripples, and the trout continue to rise, then we are happier still. On the contrary, we are never so miserable as we are when not a single rise breaks the smooth placid water. As it may often on a quiet summer evening, and at other times as well, be the means of giving most crowded sport, the art of casting in a calm should certainly be learned by every angler; but few, we think, will come to consider absence of wind a condition which ensures happiness on all, or even on most, occasions.
For the loch, the great majority of fishers, we are certain, prefer a breeze, while some we know like the wind just strong enough to make the boat difficult to manage. A good breeze makes the angler cheery, and he expects that it will have the same effect upon the trout. It helps him wonderfully, and he feels that sooner or later one of his beautiful casts is certain to be rewarded; so for a long time, if necessary, his interest is maintained, and it is amazing how many trout can be caught by sheer hard work. In a calm, a few minutes will, if fish are not rising or not taking, suffice to put the angler in a despondent mood, whereas if he could persist as he does in a wind, he would probably have to call quite as often for the landing net.
Sometimes trout will rise very well by day to the natural fly, but aggravatingly out of reach of the longest cast. We have experienced the particular annoyance principally on Loch Leven, and very probably the trout of other lochs can similarly tantalise the angler. If the wind springs up, then the fish become a comparatively easy conquest, presumably because their powers of vision are much reduced.
Frequently and on many lochs our experience has been quite the reverse. A fine, gentle breeze, making neat, delicate casting the simplest of work, ripples the water; hope rules high as we gently drift along, but the longer the drift the more continuous the disappointment. All the conditions seem to combine to make the day a perfect fishing day; only the trout persistently and steadfastly refuse to make it so, treating every effort made with the same complete indifference.
The wind falls, and at once, all over the unruffled loch, are seen the signs that we most long to see. Then a floating fly is laid from long range upon the rise, and the once-silent reel is aroused to eloquence again; that is, of course, provided that the trout does not sink to the depths at our approach, but instead accepts the offering. The wind that keeps the trout down may also bring them up; such a contradiction appears inexplicable, unless the fact of the matter is that the wind has no effect upon the fish.
We conclude that it is on the angler that any influence is exercised; in a breeze he is enabled, as he cannot fail to see, to give a much improved exhibition of casting; he throws a fine straight line, lays his fly or flies lightly upon the water exactly on the mark desired, and his consistently good work continued with commendable perseverance and confidence in time, and from time to time, is well rewarded.
A rise at evening calm fills many an angler with doubts of his powers. The trout are feeding steadily and greedily, perhaps fearlessly; some of the great swirling eddies are enough to make him quiver with excitement; but his imperfections are so apparent that he despairs of success. What a change comes over him, if the merest catspaw of wind should steal along to help him ever so slightly! He casts with hope, probably to no appreciable extent is the delicacy of his execution increased, and before the feathery reeds are quite motionless again he is fast: in a fine fish.
On the river, a calm day need not trouble the inexpert caster very much, as he may ignore the placid pools and confine his efforts to the streams and broken water. He has less reason for dissatisfaction at his performance, for the rippling current hides from him his deficiencies; the trout may object to his clumsiness, but, as he is generally unaware of it, he is able to carry on, although agreeable response is delayed. Sometimes the fly will fall softly, occasionally before the eyes of a willing fish, but there is not the least doubt that even the slightest of upstream breezes would give him the greatest assistance.
Some anglers may prefer a calm to a downstream wind, but we most decidedly do not, except when the fish are rising very well. We object to walk from stream to stream, omitting the long flats and pools where, on a familiar river, we have had fine sport on other days, or where, on a new water, we are sure that good trout lie in wait; and that is what we feel constrained to do if the smooth surface of the water remains undisturbed by wind or feeding fish. If, however, a downstream wind causes a ripple, we can fish contentedly enough between the streams, even although no rise is in progress.
To put a fly straight across a strong wind calls for very little skill in the manipulation of the rod, therefore no matter from what direction the breeze comes, good casting and successful fishing are both easily possible. The angler faced with a down stream breeze should cast across it, and work his way gradually upwards. We have already pointed out the extreme deadliness of this cast in quick- flowing water, and again we give the warning that: its virtues will all be thrown away, if the flies are allowed to float too far, or the line becomes too slack. It is rather difficult to keep in close contact with the fly as it floats down, because the wind blows out the line; a short journey for the fly and a low rod-point will help the angler materially.
As the dry-fly fisher proceeds up the pool or stream, casting across the current and the wind, he will naturally be always endeavouring to put his fly a short distance, at least, upstream, and it will be surprising if he does not suddenly discover himself to be possessed of a new power, viz. ability to cast, into the wind. It is easy to learn to overcome a gentle adverse breeze, and practice first under simple, and later under more difficult, conditions will in time make him indifferent to the wind and its direction.
It may assist him to be told that he should lower the rod on delivery parallel to the water, turn his hand sharply to the right, and bring it in towards his body. If he can attend to these points, and do each at the required moment, he has reached proficiency. Great force is unnecessary, and even fatal with this or any other cast; the rod should never be heard. Some anglers like to make the rod whistle in the wind, but such sounds merely indicate misplaced energy.
A gale makes fishing both unpleasant and tiresome and, when it blows downstream, it is the torment of the dry-fly man. As he must fish, he should attempt to cast across it, and if his fly is blown farther down the current than he would like he need not worry; he may by walking keep up with his fly for a yard or more, before it begins to drag.
If he observes a trout rising, he should endeavour to float a fly down to it, while he himself remains stationary.
In a high wind fish seldom rise quietly, but usually hurl themselves upon the fly, taking no time to scrutinise it and accepting it greedily if its behaviour is above reproach. Sport is therefore sometimes surprisingly good, though conditions are all unfavourable to accurate placing.
Even the early writers on angling paid some attention to the direction of the wind as well as to its strength. Dame Juliana Berners in her Treatise on Fishing with an Angle enumerates several impediments which cause men to take no fish, and of these the last may be translated as follows: "If the wind be from the North or North-east or South-east, fish will not commonly bite nor stir; the West and the South are very good, but of the two the South is the better."
The Master, in his Epistle to the Reader, hopes that if he be an honest angler, the East wind may never blow when he goes a-fishing. The Book of St. Albans gives the East wind as the worst of all. In addition, we have sundry old rhymes which proclaim the beneficial qualities of the South and West winds, and declare the East wind fatal to the angler's sport.
There are many anglers in Scotland who will disagree with these statements, or at least will accept them only with qualifications, and old Izaak himself, had he known Loch Leven, would probably have made a special exception of that water, which, it is generally agreed, fishes best, in an East wind. Even yet the belief is very prevalent that trout will not rise well when the breeze is from that quarter; neither, we suppose, will larvae move about with freedom or be inclined to change their state. If any loch or river yields good results under such a condition, it is looked upon as some wonderful exception which must be subjected to examination and explained away.
Attempts have in consequence been made to account for this supposed peculiarity of Loch Leven. It has been argued that, as an East wind is not so cold immediately it leaves the sea as it is after it has traversed many miles of the colder land, and as Loch Leven is near the East coast, a wind from the East is there not harmful in its effects.
This seems to make rather many assumptions: first, that a cold wind makes trout fast; secondly, that the East wind is warmer on the East coast than it is inland; thirdly, that the land is colder than the sea; and lastly, that whatever is not harmful is beneficial.
If our year was one eternal spring - we do not mean the spring of the Golden Age, when the rivers ran with milk and nectar, worse conditions for angling than any wind - three of these assumptions would be correct. A cold wind in spring does not encourage fly-larvae to enter the winged state, but in summer it has exactly the opposite effect on certain species, and then trout feed readily. We who have shivered in St. Andrews by the grey North Sea know exactly how warm the spring East wind can be; Andrew Lang also knew "how the keen and biting spray drives up the melancholy street," and R. F. Murray was often glad " to draw more close the old, red gown." Still we suppose that the thermometer would have declared the temperature to be a degree or two higher there than some miles inland. Also it is true that in spring the land is colder than the sea, but in summer we imagine; that it is the warmer of the two. If the East wind were good on Loch Leven only in spring, we might accept the explanation, but as it is good throughout the season, we conclude that the observed effects cannot be wholly due to the cause suggested.
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