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Hints for beginners

The Rod - The Line - The Cast - The Fly - The Hook - The Barb.
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The legal day on which Trout Fishing begins in South Devon is and February, and it therefore need hardly be said dial, given suitable weather, this is the easiest as well as the earliest time a beginner can choose to make his first acquaintance with the fish which is perhaps destined to add a charm to his life for another forty or fifty years. Often and often after a mild winter trout are in actually better condition in an open and sunny week of February than they are in the harsh and windy weather of a month later.

Before attempting to describe trout fishing from the opening of the season let me try and briefly give the process in the simplest language from the beginner's standpoint. Every angler can skip the following pages, leaving them to the man who frankly owns he dries not know a trout when he sees one and who has never affixed a reel to a rod nor tied a knot in anything but a shoelace or a necktie.

For initial outfit regard forty or fifty shillings as necessary, sixteen of which can be expended upon a neat greenheart rod of 9 feet 6 inches or ten feet - avoid anything an inch longer - of three joints with a spare top the pair of which fit into a hollow bamboo case. This latter is fitted at the lower end to receive the screw of a collapsible landing net which can be adjusted on trial at the time of purchase. Let the rod err on the side of lightness and stiffness and so save an aching wrist and a wobbly unmanageable motion. It should have fixed upright rings through which a line runs easily and without kinking. See that the butt of the rod contains a threaded hole for receiving the screw of a spike and that this spike is contained in the jean case - in fact see that it fits. To use a rod without being able to spike it into the grass usually means that you or a friendly companion or cow will tread upon the middle joint as it lies in the meadow while you are looking for a fly or the pair of scissors you have dropped.

A reel will cost seven to ten shillings; and the centre of it instead of consisting of a single bar of a quarter-inch diameter (off which a line will never run smoothly or easily) should be flanged by five or six bars forming a drum with a diameter of iŁ to 2 inches. This advantage is apparent both for ready winding and for keeping the line well aired. Reels of the plain centre bar variety are usually ' advised ' to beginners by shopmen who find that every angler rejects them even at their reduced sale price.

For the line pay another nine shillings, thirty yards, tapered at each end so as to admit of its reversal upon the reel at the end of the season, or before that in the event of a serious break. For wet fly fishing a level line is good enough but as with care the life of a good line is five seasons whereas the rod may be supplanted after two by an expensive split cane, it is just as well to get the tapered line at once, although the. charm is chiefly appreciable in dry fly fishing. By getting an Olinea line something as near to present day perfection can be obtained provided it is aired round a chair back after a day's use and rubbed with vaseliny fingers the next morning while rewinding it on to the reel.

Before speaking of the ' cast ' as the action of throwing the fly, let us consider it as that six or nine foot length of gut which is attached to the line. Some anglers make their own casts: that is they buy hanks of gut of different thicknesses and knot them together. It is probable that at first the most convenient plan is to buy the casts ready made. Later on in one's angling career the making up of casts becomes a leisurely and pleasant mid-day occupation when one is nursing oneself for a strenuous evening's fishing. How well I can recall the very primitive inn where I first enjoyed a day's gut soaking and cast making.

For whatever style of fishing is adopted a tapered cast from stout to fine gut is decidedly the most handy and workable. It may safely be said that little is lost by having the upper strands of gut fairly think. It assists accurate throwing and minimises tangling. It lasts double as long; and moreover should a break occur this usually means only the two finer strands leaving six feet of the original to carry on with. For upstream fishing with a wet fly it is as well to affix a ' dropper ' which is put on some two or three feet from the end of the cast. An ordinary gut-tied fly can be used for this purpose and looped on just above a knot so as to stand out some three inches at right angles to the cast. For tail fly eyed hooks should be used as they alone will stand the constant flicking to which they are subjected.

Without using clear illustrations and far clearer language than I am master of it is well nigh useless to touch upon the matter of knots. A visit to an angling friend will effect more than any explanation can do, and if the various knots are first tied in stout string through a loop made out of a hairpin their power of resistance and their general efficiency are far more easily seen and understood than if tied in fine gut through the tiny eye of a hook. Some men are born with a natural aptitude for knots. Besides being able to tie them by fee) - and consequently in the dusk - they are able to invent knots of their own. Others are either clumsy or resent the trouble involved and will even have entire casts made up by tackle makers before starting off on an angling holiday. All I can say is that if any man loses as many fish as I have through hasty or bad principled knots he has my sympathy. To tie neat knots with the ends closely snipped off so that the whole cast runs through the palm of the hand without catching in each bit of rough skin constitutes a charm which always stands one in good stead. Even with fish rising around one and with only half-an-hour between you and the last light it is seldom wise to hurry in the making of any knot.

Flies are not easy to thread in the dusk and consequently it is as well to have fully half-a- dozen ready done and kept for emergencies either in a damp box or far better in the damped underflap of a Burberry hat. In case of necessity for replacing a lost or unsuccessful fly it is easy enough to tie an ordinary double water knot in the dark. And I would like just here to refer to that very common accident of finding the barb of the hook gone - an accident probably caused by the fly touching or catching in a grass stalk while extended over the meadow behind ore. For a long time I supposed it invariably broke off in a river stake or in the jaw of a lost fish, but now am convinced to the contrary and believe that twice out of three times the barb has gone a cast or two before the one which succeeded in rising and hooking - for one struggling moment - that fish which you are sure during the lonely walk home was by far the heaviest you touched all day. So important is this barb business that a small magnifying glass should be carried and the hook examined through it, when a touch with a line file can often be given with advantage. Whenever a fish is lost and the fly comes back apparently free the thought of ' barb gone ' should recur, even with grayling whose mouths far more often give way to the hook than the barb does to them.

Just as spare flies tied on to gut should be carried already damped, so in summertime should an entire spare cast be made ready with a single fly - probably a sedge - attached to it and be coiled either round one's hat (in wet weather) or kept in an envelope between damp blotting* paper. Then if a hopeless break occurs after sundown it proves a godsend to the distracted fisherman and relieves him of that arm-straining action of holding up a cast to the sky and making entanglement worse entangled. He can cut the whole cast adrift and put on the new one within a few minutes. This spare cast need not be more than seven feet and should be devoid of any ' dropper ' for the obvious reason that n the dusk when throwing for rises the tail fly is all one wants to watch, while if a good fish takes it and careers as near to bushes and weeds as he can there is no dropper to assist him in hitching up. After a few seasons' experience it will be found that the loss of an entire cast is a rare occurrence. You may use one through a Mayfly week without losing anything beyond the point or last strand of fine gut. Sometimes however in windy weather accidents are inevitable, the whole cast is wafted right across a blackberry bush and the line itself has to be cut at the risk too of falling into the river.

Casts if made up oneself from lengths of plain white gut should of course be stained Inky-blue for chalk streams or perhaps green when weeds are prevalent; while strong tea affords an excellent protective colouring for gravelly bottoms. Judsons' dyes are harmless enough. Even green baize soaked in a teacup will be found useful if nothing else is available.

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