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Up the river


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Gone are the brimming pools and the broad swelling streams of the merry springtime, the cool fresh breeze, the fleet of duns, the rise of deadly intent, and the contented creel. Here a few weeks ago we almost feared to wade, so deep and strong was the full-flowing current, and now it is but a stone-strewn stretch of thin, lifeless water. Pools there are still, no doubt, but they are far apart and few, and when after painful toil under the heat we reach one, wre find it dull, stagnant, hopeless.

For many days the sun has ridden unchallenged across the heavens; by day not the tiniest wisp of cloud relieves the monotonous expanse of everlasting blue; at eventide a few filmy streaks collect in the West awaiting in their vanity to be adorned with golden brilliancy, but before the dawning they melt away, and we are left with but a memory of their glory. The promise given of most necessary help is withdrawn, and we awake to another day of sun and calm.

The terrified trout have fled their accustomed haunts to search out refreshing deeps under the rushing white force of a steep, stony stream, sadly attenuated though it be, among the rocks of a still, dead pool, beneath a hollowed bank, within the mazy recesses of tangled roots, and from none of these retreats will they be tempted by any lure save that of the foaming flood which will (but it is yet afar off) bring with it life and liveliness. We look across the broad flat and see as through a sheet of glass clearly to the farthest corner, but not a single fish can we detect, if we except a shoal or two of happy minnows, basking, questing, darting, splashing, now without an enemy. Our most careful efforts are vain, our daintiest flies arc useless, ignored absolutely, as are the few living insects that ride the stream.

At sundown and for perhaps an hour or more thereafter, a few trout dare to leave their hiding- places in the depths of the pool and venture into the smooth thin water at the tail or the edges of the entering stream. Even hi the late hours only a slight reward is given to patient and careful effort; it was not always so, but then never was there such a drought, rocks, whose existence was suspected by a faint rippling wave on the surface, now standing clearly exposed. Those adventurous trout rejoice to annoy us by rising to, taking, and rejecting all in the same second our choicest spinner. The water here is unfriendly, unkind by day; in the late evening the reward is poor return for the sacrifice involved and the irritation experienced. We must fish. Let us away up the river.

Off we go thirty miles up the river, where it is a cheery streamlet, flowing along merrily in a narrower channel between higher banks, so fast that only here and there is a stone befouled by yellow and green unloveliness. We are on the open moor, and though the sun burns here quite as brightly as it does away down beside the cities of the plain, the breeze is sweeter, stronger, and there s a finer, cooler draught sweeping down the glens.

The trout are wary enough, but food is not too plentiful; they do not like this unceasing sunshine any more than we, and yet they dare not allow many flies or nymphs or beetles to pass unheeded. They have to reach some day the same form as their brethren of the lower reaches, and they have less time for the purpose as well as smaller stores to draw upon. Therefore there are no lazy days, no wasted opportunities in the life of the trout in a swift moor land stream; there are many hard days of hunger in the winter that must come, no matter how cloud less skies may be now.

Sunshine assists us to combat their craftiness, for it plays upon the glinting gravel and the ripple, giving the lure many points of light, obscuring its deficiencies, and helping to make our approach more difficult of detection. We welcome all the assistance we can get when waters are at their lowest recorded level.

The river here n these green uplands would usually be designated a typical Scottish wet-fly water, fast and free, fretting among boulders, sliding down a steep glide, gurgling in a little pot, slipping along a broad pool, tumbling over a rocky ledge, singing over a gravelly shallow. We say it is an ideal dry-fly water, for so we find t, and the simple reason is that n summer at least, when we know it, the floating-fly utterly vanquishes the sunken variety.

There are places, the swiftest streams, for example, when; a little pink worm will easily prove itself superior to either, while in some of the deep necks a natural minnow neatly spun by a carefully concealed angler will bring to close inspection trout that would seldom if ever condescend to take any thing less substantial. We have tried all lures many a time, and in summer the longest continued spells of fishing, the least amount of walking, and the maximum of sport are undoubtedly the results of using the floating fly.

To produce conviction on the point no trial is necessary. It will be sufficient to watch the manipulators of other litres at work. They would all without exception pass over as impossible the long still stretches of the pools - and such form a large proportion of the water available - confining their attentions solely to the streams and necks. The dry-fly man finds trout in places which others ignore, as well as in what they regard as their most fruitful hunting grounds. A high upstream wind would help all, but it would certainly not bring all to the same level.

The angler who objects to fishing with the dry-fly unless he can find a rise to cover will not be happy here, for he might wander by the banks for a week or more without receiving one solitary direct invitation to test his skill in the accurate, delicate placing of a fly. Even if he did observe a trout rising, it is extremely improbable; that he could rigidly adhere to his principles which lay down that he must present for the acceptance of the fish an artificial representation of the fly that has just met its fate.

The unfortunate insect may have been the sole survivor of its race, or a member of a species not classified or even before observed: the trout may have made a mistake, rising to a grass seed or a piece of straw, and it is quite prepared to attempt the next thing that comes along. We have had many an offer to the knot which attaches cast to line, but it is the fly we next put over the rise, not always unsuccessfully. We have heard of such anglers, though we have never seen one. If there should really be such a one, he should overcome his objections and learn the joys of a day on the burn amongst the hills.

It may be true, as has often been stated, that trout will not feed freely on any species of fly until they have become accustomed to its presence, but it certainly does not apply to the smaller mountain streams, for if it did then the unhappy trout would never know the flavour of any fly. Trout that inhabit rapid water, where food is not too abundant, sample first and reflect afterwards; anything moving down the stream may be good to eat. Their brethren of the placid river may inspect from safe range and then either reject or accept according to their conclusions; they can afford to be saucy, one fly more or less is of little moment.

We open the campaign on a long, narrow pool, overhung on one side by a high grassy bank, very deep and still at the tail, with a fine twisting stream at the neck. We entrust our fortunes to a single fly, for in such a stream it is usually necessary to aim at a very minute target, a little run among moss- covered stones, an eddy behind a rock, and whatever accuracy is attained may often be immediately converted into miserable failure by the presence of a second fly exerting its evil influence on the well-delivered cast. For the same reason we use the shortest of lines and instead reach the desired goal by cautious approach, crouching behind a boulder or tuft of grass or even by wading if no cover is available. A long line floating on the surface, as it is almost certain to be moving at a rate different from that of tbe fly, makes effective striking impossible, while ii likewise makes a rise extremely improbable by reason of its retarding or accelerating effect on the lure.

The lightest of summer zephyrs fails to disturb the calm surface, but still we think it not unlikely that a willing trout awaits under the shadow of the bank. For the occasion we select a little Greenwell Quill, though we would be equally contented to test the seductive powers of a Black Spider. With an underhand cast we flick the fly lightly to the very edge, but there is not an answering dimple through out the entire journey up the pool.

Now we arrive at the entering stream; a stone projecting above the surface breaks it into two portions just where it comes sweeping round its final bend. We search both branches in turn, but without result, and then stop to study how we shall lay the fly beyond the stone.

It is a difficult cast; not an inch of line must touch the water, the fly has only a second in which to float free and naturally, but if a trout is at home, that length of time will suffice. Risking everything, even the loss of the whole stream, we place the fly on the grassy bank; the cast hangs clear above the water; by hand we give a gentle twitch to the line; good luck attends and the fly falls softly to its goal. At the same moment, all unsuspecting, a trout rises to meet it and takes it down. The captive strives to rush up the stream, but that we cannot allow, for we have still use for that curving, wavy water, and we force it to come down to the deeps where; we lead it on to the gravel - a plump little trout of the moor land. Back we go to fish out the stream and secure another but smaller victim.

Soon we reach a little pool, a basin hewn from the rock it seems to be, but it is floored with fine gravel, while here and there dimly show larger stones, which we are sure will shelter some fair trout. Into the white foam of the rush we place the fly; it floats, but the hissing, water pulling on the cast would, if it had time, drag it beneath. Before that happens, however, a golden trout, the monarch of the pool, has launched itself upon it. There ensues a hurry to and fro, a sharp conflict all over the pool; so quirk and unexpected are the movements of the trout that the eye is unable to keep pace with it; but the hook does, and In time we find a creek whither we lead the plucky fighter.

And so gradually we work our way upstream among the rocks, over the grassy hummocks, picking up a fish now and then, until the time conies for the return. It has been a strenuous day of incessant casting, fine practice in the art of accurate delivery, and we have taken trout or tried to take them from almost every conceivable variety of water; we have been alone in the solitudes and, while the trout reposing in the creel are smaller than the broad river could give if it would, they afford us infinite satisfaction and help us to forget the poor days under the merciless sun.


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