A day on Clyde
Across the broad rough holm, terrifying the meadow-pipits, over a dry-stone dyke threatening to collapse, we hurry under the broiling sunshine to reach the liver's bank. Full well we know there is no need for haste, and yet we are filled with eagerness to start the unequal fight. We consider it a day in which we shall have to be content with small events, but many a time we have expected much and received little, while not infrequently our anticipations have been far surpassed. Truly, we never can foretell what fortune intends to bestow.
Is tills the brimming river that we knew in the far-off happy days of spring, when the broad, swelling pools and cheerful streams seldom failed to bring supreme contentment? The curves of the distant hills, green darkening to deepest blue, remain unchanged; we recognise the banks, though they are draped with greater luxuriance; the tributary burns enter where they did, yet surely they sing a sadder song, and the river is only the shadow of its former might.
A bed of dry gravel spreads gleaming white where often the rod has become a straining bow and the reel has shrieked its protest; a pool that we imagined, of mighty depth is still a pool, no doubt, but clearly to the bottom we see and find its mystery has vanished; a broad flat, which has yielded freely of its store and made us happy in our work, is now a thin shallow in which not a single trout appears to dwell.
A feeling of despair and hopelessness strives to lay its grip upon us, but we are resolved not to be overwhelmed with disappointment until we have put fortune to the test. Though the sun is brilliant and large cloud-masses intensely white float slowly across the sky, the wind is gentle from the east, endeavouring to give a little coolness, and at times, as it puts forth a greater effort, not altogether failing.
Some there are who love not the east wind, but we find it friendly on many rivers, or rather we believe that It is kindly, and that is an equivalent. It opposes the puny current, a stroke of luck to place against the many unfavourable conditions, a happy circumstance which dispels some despair and hastens on the preparations for the day. While the tails of the pools may be un affected, the streams are appreciably longer and more ruffled, which means more water to fish, shorter distances to walk and, we hope, more sport to enjoy. If that wind were absent, we might acknowledge defeat without a trial, but its presence makes probable the impossible.
Before us lies a long, still pool, on our side a broad belt of gravel fringed and sullied with the foul green weed, the invariable accompaniment of drought, while opposite is a high, rush-tufted bank on which the long grass scarcely waves, and between them glides softly the silent water.
Detaching ourselves completely from all the sounds and scenes around- and very difficult it is to ignore the play of light and shade on the hills, and refuse to hear the sky-lark's song and the curlew's far, wild cry - we watch with unfaltering attention the deep black shadow beneath the bank. We have already noticed that down the pool floats an occasional tiny black smut of white glistening wing, and that all are allowed to pass on unmolested; but in expectation of the welcome being merely delayed we have attached a Badger Hackle of smallest size to the very finest cast in our possession. We watch and wait.
At last the faintest disturbance appears on the surface close to the bank; so very faint in deed is t that, had we not been watching the spot in hope of it occurring, we should probably have failed to detect it, we might even conclude that we had merely imagined it, were it not repeated again and yet again.
At one time, had we accidentally seen such a mark, we would probably have said that it was nothing but a minute air-bubble rising from the bottom, or considered it caused by a diminutive minnow rising quietly, but we have investigated and found that it is made by an exceptional trout raising itself slowly towards the surface to suck down a fly. Sometimes, but not always, a bell of air remains to mark the spot. The rise is the deadliest of ail the many kinds of rises, the one that we most rejoice to see, for the fish that feeds in this quiet fashion is worthy a place in any basket, not only because of its size and quality, but also for the care that must be exercised, the delicacy that must be displaced, before its capture may be effected.
Having made certain that the Badger is absolutely dry, and that every part of the apparatus is in readiness, we switch the fly across to the bank. It alights softly close to the edge and about a foot above the floating bubble, and slowly down it comes, the line obedient to the gentle current gradually straightening out. The fly with its white glinting points suggesting the wings of the tiny smut is quite visible, as fortunately it rides clear of any foam-fleck. Will it reach the fateful spot before, in reply to the floating, pulling line, the fatal drag supervenes?
As if in answer it suddenly and silently vanishes, but we are all-prepared for this event, ant] almost as quickly the horizontal rod flashes downstream. The trout is hooked. It bolts below, making the reel sing and the line hiss through the rings. Not knowing yet the foe we have to deal with, we hasten, with rod held high and eyes on the line cutting through the water, to the gravel, in an endeavour to get below the captive, a manoeuvre which we always strive to carry out, as surely it is advisable to make the water assist the rod and not the trout.
The dour fighter comes to the top and lashes wildly, shoots across the pool in an attempt to reach a submerged mass dislodged from the bank, now cruises sullenly about the depths, without warning tears through the slimy shallows as if it would end the battle by throwing itself upon the gravel; but the hook holds, and the high rod point answering every move prevents disaster to the frail cast. The end of the struggle is near, and in deep water we steer into the net as gallant a pounder as ever we hooked.
Elated with tins early success, greater than we dared to expect, we repair to our former station to scan the surface for a similar invitation. That is withheld, and, our patience soon exhausted, we walk up the pool a few yards until we are opposite a narrow ditch draining the holm; ordinarily it is quite a merry stream of bubbling water, whose music we can hear even from the tail of the pool, but now it sends only a feeble drip over the high bank.
Just above it a bubble floats, perhaps wafted there by the gentle breeze from the tiny fall, but it may be that a trout has left it there a few minutes ago in exchange for a fly, so across we flick the lure. Whatever the reason for the presence of the air-bell, a trout is there and, moreover, seems to have been expecting the fly to arrive, for it snaps it up at once. Duly it pays the penalty for its mistake, a short but merry fight enough, for, though only a half-pounder, it is not lacking in pluck.
Entering this pool is a stream, which is one of the most generous bits we know, where a floating fly is always certain of attention, sometimes, very seldom, only a little and sometimes as much as anyone could desire. On one occasion, after struggling for a time against a downstream gale, receiving not ling but half-hearted rises, we changed our tactics, and took from it half a dozen fine trout on a Red Spider, fished wet.
At summer level it is only about a foot in average depth and of fairly steep gradient. Often it is crowded with rising trout, especially at the gloaming, and what a glorious, exciting sound trout make when rising greedily in a steep stream! The bottom consists of the finest gravel, with not a single large stone to provide cover, so that it may safely be concluded that any trout in it are there for the sole, purpose of feeding. Even though the flowing surface was quite undisturbed, we would not omit to search it thoroughly, for we cannot recall a blank day on it.
At that point where the ripple of the stream fades away in the pool, there is a fish quietly feeding on small duns sailing down the current, a small company truly, but evidently quite sufficient to attract attention. Of these our Pale Olives are a fair representation. The substitution called for is soon made, and the new fly laid above the last eddy of the stream; gaily it bobs for a moment, and then sails placidly along. The trout splashes wildly over it, a good fish not destined to be ours. We think that it rose with the best intentions, determined to accept, but at the last moment took alarm and changed its course.
Taking the hint, we replace the fly with one of the same pattern but smaller in size, and greedily look over the waving water. The small hatch seems to have passed, and we are too impatient to wait for the arrival of another detachment. Our fly may pass as a. belated individual or as a fore-runner, we really care not which.
Gradually we work up the short stream, casting the fly ahead, laying it over the favourite lines of the fish, remembered from past days, and, though offers are fairly frequent, only three times is progress interrupted in the way we most welcome. Two of the fish are fine average specimens, which display remarkable resistance, being assisted, vainly how ever, by the strength of the current; the third is an immature fish, an interloper in this fine piece of water.
As a rule, having fished the pool and its stream, we would return to where we commenced operations and there wait until the disturbance had died away sufficiently for the trout to recover their equanimity, but to-day we have a desire to revisit old familiar haunts on a full mile of water. Our next halt is made at a great pool with a very sharp bond in it, where we have never had great success, and only once have we seen trout rising in it, and that was on a sultry, thundery day, when the water was covered with ants and the rod was being given a rest. The neck of the pool is a strong rush with a high wave, whither we would not expect trout to repair in search of surface food.
We do not care to pass the place without giving it a trial, and happening to remember that we possess a large Red Quill adorned with a stiff detached body, we decide for amusement to float it down the rapids. As it sails along from trough to crest at great speed, a trout throws itself clear of the water upon it, and making no mistake in aim firmly hooks itself. Without ceremony we hurry it into slack water and ran t ashore, a bright little fellow of six ounces. In spite of this immediate success we have not experimented further with detached bodies, as, though they are very natural in appearance, we imagine that only by a lucky chance will an offering fish be hooked, as the stiff body will usually interfere with the strike.
The wind meantime freshens to a strong breeze, but still, fortunately, from the same direction. The air is decidedly cooler and more pleasant, so that we give up quite cheerfully the next two pools, the fishing of which would demand greater exertion than we deem worth while, as they are unfavourably placed as regards the wind.
A short walk across country and through the stream brings us to a pool which, though exceedingly well stocked with trout, continues to defy us. To-day, as usually is the case, we secure two good fish at the tail, where it is simple fishing; but it is at the head that we receive innumerable chances and score as a rule an equal number of failures.
An island of gravel splits up the river into two channels, that on the right bank being too steep and shallow to hold trout, while the opposite branch is a narrow, deep, curving, twisting stream which at the end strikes against a rude wall of stone built for the purpose of keeping the river from altering its course. The two branches meet to form an easy cast, which seldom, however, holds a willing trout, and to-day is no exception.
Again we stand on the gravel within sight of these trout that for years have baffled us; as usual they are rising freely and quietly in the far-off stream. Deep water containing many currents lies between us and our wary foes, hence we have to suffer the first great handicap of a long line which, moreover, must be thrown loosely, or the drag that follows is horrible to behold. The cast produces a rise almost as a matter of course, and an ineffectual strike completes the unhappy sequence. Line must be lengthened as we search farther and farther up the stream, for of course we continue the agony to the bitter end.
As we take what we mean to be our last cast in the inhospitable place, we receive the almost inevitable rise, and, according to custom, we strike fiercely in reply. There is little danger in that, as so much line has to be pulled straight before, any movement can be communicated to the fly. In amazement we discover that we have hit something more substantial than water, and we have a wild fight with a plunging, spinning fish. Gradually we overcome it and bring it down, but still it twists and writhes in disconcerting style. The explanation of its contortions and exceptional power becomes apparent when we discover that the fly is lodged at the root of the pectoral fin, a sure hold. That half-pounder will not tantalise us on our next visit, but there are dozens more in that tricky corner to carry on the work.
The opposite bank, high, bare, and vertical, we find no better as a base from which to conduct the campaign. We have attempted the downfall of these trout in almost every conceivable way, but a solution seems as far off as ever. A sixteen-foot rod would assuredly make several captures probable, but we are not burdening ourselves with such a heroic weapon on a trout-fishing expedition.
We leave the place more contented than we generally are, for we feel that at last we have accomplished something: luck undoubtedly has contributed to the success, f it is not alone responsible for it, and yet the satisfaction is in no measure diminished. In good humour - we are doing well on this inauspicious day - we pass on to the next resting-place, a long broad flat, such as we would expect to find twenty miles lower down the river, very deep at the sides and everywhere too deep to wade, an unpopular stretch with most anglers, but a great favourite of ours when a strong upstream breeze blows.
The current is slow, gentle, and uniform, nowhere is there any serious likelihood of drag, and, therefore we attach two flies to the cast, both of the same pattern, viz., the small Pale Olive, which is still on the water. A break here and there, an eddy slowly fading away downstream, shows that they are as readily welcomed as ever.
We choose the right bank, high and grassy, because it is more favoured by the best trout than the other. At one time we used to pass by without a cast, but we discovered that it is possible to work slowly along the base of the bank, an occasional grasp of the overhanging grass being required to help us to pass a difficult part. The basket is an encumbrance that must be left at the tail of the pool, the landing net is another, but as it would be impossible to land a trout without it, it has to accompany us on the journey. Only underhand casting can be indulged in; accuracy in direction is thus rather difficult to obtain, but quite frequently the dropper-fly rectifies a mistake.
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