A Sanctuary for Trout - The Charm of Free Water -A Surprise Basket - Pleasant Tramps Back.Pages: <1> 2
'Tis sweet to heai the watch dog's honest bark
On far more than half the water that 1 have ever had the fortune to fish, wading has been prohibited; and, much as the restriction is often grumbled at or actively resented by holiday visitors with day tickets, there is no denying that from a proprietor's point of view, it is the best, and perhaps the only plan of preventing the stock of good fish from being exterminated.
It forms in fact, like the prohibition of worm or minnow, a kind of preservation, very like that of dry fly fishing.
We can all of us recall winding streams where every half mile or so the trees meet overhead for a short interval, rendering casting impossible; or again where the opposite side s steep and cliff like with trailing ivy or dripping ferns, under whose roots the deep water is removed from us by a full twenty yards of gravelly shallow. In each case the poaching instinct asserts itself; the thought occurs of breaking rules or promises, and of stepping into the stream, to reach the coveted spot where the trout continue to rise, on days which threaten ominously to prove blanks. Where such places occupy less than ten per cent, of the available water the true angler will own at once that he is not unfairly handicapped, and he must regard them either as nurseries or sanctuaries. But for their existence and maintenance, all chance of hooking a trout well over the average would be so remote that his sport and pleasure would lose half their excitement.
Thirty years ago when anglers were few, and generally local, even a stretch of free water was able to maintain its reputation of furnishing specimen trout every month, and of retaining a decent head of fish year after year; but now, when we have nothing less than a territorial army all trained by experts, all well equipped with the most modern split cane weapons, the most deadly ammunition of duns and alders, as well as with petrol driven lines of communication and commissariat, nothing but an angling Hague tribunal can prevent the last six ounce trout from being literally hunted down, surrounded, and given no quarter.
Even the boy scouts of this army now exist in the form of youths well versed in the habits of fish and birds, assisted as they are by school-board text books, and Nature-study lectures.
They can chase a spawning trout up a narrow brook in November, and stop its retreat by a barricade; doing thereby as much damage as an enemy that poisons the wells. Any regret I have ever felt at reading the words ' no wading allowed ' upon my ticket has long since faded away, or has been replaced by a feeling of thankfulness that for another generation perhaps fly fishing may exist for the lower ten thousand, as well as for the upper five hundred.
There are two main objects in wading. The first is to enable you to fish water quite out of reach otherwise: the second to cover a pool or shallow from a downstream position.
Wading is in fact strategic or tactical. On broad shallow rivers interspersed with boulders like parts of the Coquet, the Teme, or the Manifold, wading is necessary to get at the water. On smaller streams, easy enough to cast across from bank to bank with a nine foot rod, wading is often the only means of coming into touch with the sharp sighted fish that are feeding above a stickle and which cannot possibly be attacked on either flank. This is the form of wading that requires the education of at least two seasons to be brought to workmanlike efficiency. Practised on still summer evenings on free water, where as we all know a blank of anything over six ounces is the usual reward of four hours enjoyment, it has a calm fascination for the enthusiast.
To set off up the river at seven o'clock in June or July with a tried and trusted friend, and to meet the returning holiday angler hurrying hack to the apartment supper, and thus leaving the field in peace, constitutes a pleasure composed of little or no alloy.
It is a left bank water with a public footpath extending for two miles, before you come to the small bridge half hidden by the trees, and the notice board with the variegated fate awaiting trespassers engraven upon it. All this lovely stretch of river is slightly affected by the tide, the stickles being drowned during the hours of high water; and, during spring tides being quite unfishable excepting for peal. As the course of the river is roughly north and south, the bank angler has all the glow of the western sky behind him. thus giving a warning silhouette to the few and wary trout who venture forth after their prey like the lions in the psalms. This is where wading does something to equalise the chance of a heavy fish finding itself upon a cool plate in the larder when man goeth forth to his work and to his labour on the following morning.
At its summer level, the river is fordable in many places for knee high rubber boots; and at exactly eight o'clock the passage is attempted, with much probing with the landing net handle, and much balancing on slimy stones, before a stand is taken up on the narrow beach or fringe of rushes, with its background of red cliff or of tangled foliage. What a different scene is now presented. One feels secure in the protective shadow of the stalls, while the rises take place behind the footlights.
There is no need to roam about much once you have chosen a favourable pitch, as fifty or a hundred yards is quite enough to allot to oneself; care being taken to study the position of stakes and obstacles, which, clear enough now, will fade into dangerous unobtrusiveness after nine-thirty, or just when the coveted pounder indulges in his well chosen sucks of floating flies.
And, speaking of stakes and obstacles, it is needless to add there must be no dropper Long before that time however the rise begins, at first the sprats and then the better fish. Some are rising in the broken or swift water, which can be easily covered by remaining on the bank, and are more readily attracted by casting with the left hand from a kneeling position; but afterwards the shallows must be approached.
The least ripple, or up stream wave, caused by stepping into the water clumsily, will spoil everything, and stop each reachable ring as suddenly as though you had thrown a stone in.
Edge quietly forward step by step without casting, and make your way up the current, until you stand a few yards below the unbroken glide of the shallow pool. Again, there is no hurry. Wait and watch as quietly as an old heron, keeping your best eye close under the rushes of the bank on your left. If a promising rise takes place give time to see whether he is a feeder in position, or merely a roamer moving up stream. After he has risen twice, or three times, the critical moment has arrived, and the first cast must drop your fly a foot or so above him.
All the walk, all the trouble and planning, is rewarded by the tension of those few seconds. A ring appears, a sound like a smothered kiss, a pause, a check, a struggle. If all succeeds and he is played and netted, with cast almost round one's boots, it must appear to an onlooker - an imaginary one of course, for no one in his senses could tolerate a soul by his side at such a time - that trout fishing is not only simple, but is a certainty for the rod.
There are seven phases of pleasure, each in its way separate, yet, when complete, all compressed within a very few minutes. There is the pleasure of the rise, followed by that of moving into position and adjusting the length of line so that the cast may cover it without falling short or overlapping. Then comes the cast itself, and the true rise made at the false fly. Next, the crowning pleasure of the strike and the finding that the line is tight between you - the more, sober pleasure of playing and netting - the quick and varying estimates of his size as you feel in the net, and the fond look at the divine form before he is dropped into the creel. The final pleasure is more one of pride, as the catch is shown on the dish at hone, after having been washed at the pantry sink, with tumblers and teacups pushed aside, and each glistening fish arranged head and tail on the grass you have, hurried out and snatched beyond the back garden door.
But to return to the pool, where you have been standing. This has now been too disturbed by the waves of the recent struggle to offer much hope. Across to your right is a narrow side channel, very small and overhung but deep and swift. Just at the bead of this, where the water laps over a stranded stake with an intermittent gurgle and is guarded by a hideous bramble, a good fish may be expected. A ridge of rush covered gravel affords some little cover; but if you have no knee pad you are badly handicapped.
Although the light is wrong, and you have- scarcely two yards of line through the top ring it is worth watching; as a brace of fish on the free water in one evening means a bag well above the average in these degenerate days. You can see the eddy swirl round, where after a short and uncomfortable interval of attention there is a rise. It is so close that the movement of the rod may give the danger signal.
Possibly when a trout is poised so near to the surface his eyes are focussed for short vision only; and so it seems, for he has taken your cast and has bolted under some weeds, leaving the line round an obstacle almost before he felt the check. He is throbbing with fright, and you are with excitement. The line is freed by good fortune, and the rod forms a neat curve with only the cast beyond the rings. There is nothing for it but to lie down, pull up your sleeve, and grope down the gut until your fingers are feeling among the weedy tendrils. You have got him tight by the gills. You manage to get out the scissors and cut the point with your left hand. Nothing of great size, but a plucky eight ouncer taken in his own lair by fair play.
Further up again the current is deeper, the volume of stream being under the left bank. A fish can be made out, rising repeatedly in the broken water, while a governor is being quickly tied on. Twice it seems to have moved him, and twenty, thirty casts are made at the place. Suddenly it is taken, he gives a tug right on the surface - a frantic struggle, and back it all comes with the fly still on, and in perfect order. Whether you were too rough, too soon, or too late, matters little; but the disturbing fact remains that he is in the river, one of the might-have-been pounders that jars upon your memory for hours after.
And so the evening passes, or rather glides into dusk without one's noticing the process.
With eyes gradually accustoming themselves to the fading light, one can see the rises up to ten o'clock or later, and can cast a fly with fair accuracy at the spot. After they have ceased, there is the final down-stream-and-across casting with its pulsating pauses, occasionally broken by a tug, either from a large trout or an early peal. And finally the welcome ' coo-ey ' from above or below, with the query as to whether you have knocked off.
Yes, there were giants in those days - as also in these, for the river has improved of late - and occasionally one of them was brought home, usually n my friend's creel, and weighed on the kitchen scales, after we had had the pleasurable topic of his estimate in ounces during the two mile tramp back along the marshes.
These giants too were not the nebulous fabled monsters described in hostelries, always in unbroken pounds, two pounders, or three pounders, occasionally topped by a hiccuping four pounder, caught - always ' on a dry fly ' - by the gentleman in gaiters at the end of the bar, whose legs were as much in want of support as his tales, and whose fondness for running water would never have been guessed by the amount of whisky with which he diluted it.
This too, out of a river, remember, where a sixteen ounce trout is an object of beauty and envy. No; these giants of ours took the form of brown trout of one pound one, one pound five, one pound nine, one pound twelve - his tracing still preserved and coloured from memory.
All this night work reminds you of boyhood, of Fenimore Cooper's red Indians, where men of few words talk for five closely printed pages upon the necessity for preserving breathless silence at the cost of your life.
And now it is a week and a year later. ' I like to be particular in dates ' - the eleventh of July. It was not only a summer's day, but one of really tropical splendour, like that sixth of June which Dona Julia had cause for remembering so well.
We had agreed that it was useless to attempt day fishing, even when a ticket for the preserved water figured temptingly on the mantel piece. Although the river was low, it had been thoroughly freshened up by a week of continuous wet weather, and had not as yet run down 10 its summer level.
We had heard peal jump on the two previous evenings - that startling sound in the dusk, as though someone had thrown a brick into a quiet pool and it had grazed your heart in passing. I had accordingly looked out and mounted a fly suited to the occasion, a luscious caterpillary reddish brown creature, on a hook the size of a mayfly. This, threaded on to a strand of undrawn gut, or better still mounted on a separate six foot cast, is all that is requisite, as it can then be used from nine-thirty until ten o'clock or later, according to the hopes or delusions of the angler.
To hook a peal on rod and fly, on the free water, is an event nowadays of perhaps only weekly occurrence, but on the night m question I was fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to hook two, each of about a pound and a half - that is the commonest size - and lose them both: the first jumping on to the bank, and off again in freedom, and the second after a hustling run along the surface of a dozen yards.
I have never been lucky at peal on this river, as August is really the best month; my largest being only i lb. 12 oz., with few adventures of anything over that weight. The heaviest fish I have seen was four pounds and a quarter, hooked and played on trout tackle and a light Hardy rod at half past ten, after a desperately exciting struggle with a landing net licensed to carry sixteen ounces inside.
On this particular evening the free water was at its best; but it must be understood that this word is used in relation with a very poor standard - a standard so poor, that evening after evening we had to be content with either touching a peal, or bringing home a trout of eight ounces, or even of eight inches.
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