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The mayfly in Hampshire


The First Half of June.
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It seems a day
(I speais. of one from many singled out)
One of those heavenly days which cannot die. (Wordsworth.)

The lovely toy to fiercely sought
Hath lost its charm by being caught. (Byron.)

If one were to eliminate the charm of the weather during early June, when the pleasure of the lengthening days still asserts itself, and prolongs the evening until nearly nine o'clock, I must own that 1 should not care so much for mayfly fishing.

The season however, when it is kind, brings such good sport, and affords so perfect an outdoor holiday, that no one need wonder at the worship of the mayfly: particularly by men who have not taken up dry fly fishing young enough to love its very difficulties, or who honestly say they prefer a heavy creel after three hours fishing to an eight hour day spent by the river.

What surprises one at the first introduction to mayfly tackle is the comparative strength of the cast and size of the fly. There is no denying, from what one hears about the bags made on privately owned water, where the fish will take readily, that it must be an easy process to attract, hook, and land them. Even in boat fishing on a lake, stories are frequently told of the cast blowing overboard, and being at once seized by a good fish. This experience too has befallen more than one beginner about to fish from the bank or a bridge.

Of recent years mayfly tackle has become more delicate. The casts are finer, and the flies smaller; the result being that the style of fishing approximates far more to plain dry fly as practised with red quill, or black gnat, during the preceding month. I am quite sure that the man, who has never thrown a mayfly until he has graduated in all the troubles and blanks of several previous seasons, becomes more successful than his friend who perhaps boasts of the fish he caught the first day he ever received an invitation to good private water in a favoured first week of June. As a rule, one is I think prone to cast far too quickly, carelessly, and frequently with the mayfly: to take too little trouble in approaching the water and the rising fish. The tendency is to underrate your enemy before he is hooked, and to overrate him after you have done so.

In spite of seven or eight years experience, I often find it more difficult to attract a good feeding trout with a mayfly in June than with a sedge in August or September. No doubt, much depends upon the individual craftiness of the fish. Should he have been hooked and lost under weeds, we can well imagine that the adventure has made more than an ephemeral impression; as the process of hauling at a trout of two pounds, which has managed to twist the line round rootlets or tendrils strong enough to cause a break, must be lengthy and alarming.

To strike and prick the same fish a month earlier with a small fly is a very different matter. The tiny barb catches in the side of his horny lip, he shakes his head - perhaps jumping out of the water at the same time - and is free. He may hardly realise what happened, beyond that his power of movement was curtailed for a second. He need not necessarily associate this with the fly he rose at: therefore you may get him the same afternoon. As trout feeding on spent gnat in the evening are well able to take as many as twenty in the space of an hour, it becomes obvious folly to cast at anything in a hurry.

Choose a turn in the river if possible, where the current takes all floating matter quietly against the opposite side. If some nasty bushes or stakes protrude from the somewhat overhanging bank, rendering the pitch of an artificial fly extremely awkward, so much the better; for it may easily be that some other rod has rejected the place on that account, finding it too difficult. Depend upon it that is why the ideal places, which catch the eye on a first walk upstream, prove so often delusive. There is no drawback to them: consequently they inherit an unlucky name among the more superstitious trout, who have missed too many relations from the tempting spot to be keen about annexing the run as an easy food provider.

It is a time full of suppressed excitement. You have been fortunate to get the place to yourself. The fly is coming down, and you can locate two, at least, thoroughly good trout who are taking it confidently and with relish. A very noticeable fact also is that the flies which give the faintest movement or flutter are always the first to go. Mary that lie motionless are allowed to drift along, first over riser number one, and then over the lower fellow. Both of them are old hands and have so far kept their places for several days, despite the tramp of the passing angler.

You must wait for a time, and make quite sure that you can hit the distance exactly with your fly. Time it, if possible, so that it comes over the lower fish just after he has taken one. Two throws, if correctly made, are ample if he dons not respond. You stand uneasily in the chalky mud, trying to double some rushes under your feet to delay the sinking process. You can already feel, and hear, your boots settling down in the ooze. You can even smell the subsidence as well, so if inclined you can light your pipe by way of passing the time and changing the odour from miasma to nicotine. Provided you think your pattern is right do not trouble to change the fly. Much may have depended upon how it sat on the water when you made the previous casts. One never knows in what light the trout regards the fly looking up from below. His point of view can be rudely imitated by placing flies in an uncut finger bowl half filled with water.

He has risen again; after a longish pause. You make your throw: it narrowly misses a nasty prong of bush: the current carries it right under the clump of docks, far closer to the bank than where the fish rose: for a moment you almost lose sight of it as the eddy turns it edgways to you: but this turning movement has seemingly endued it with life, for there is a suck, you strike, and the line is taut with a throb, throb, that bends the rod in earnest.

He is on: hold him for all you are worth or he will bolt under the overhanging blackberry bush, which touches the water, and will ' saw * himself off on the edge of a spine. He is a, trout ail right - no grayling pulls so viciously as that. It is a glorious minute of pulsating suspense, a minute well worth the sixty mile journey, or a cost of a penny a second. He can stick it no longer but comes to the surface at last preparatory to another vigorous dive.

He has got below you, just where you cannot move and follow him. He is in a clear pool, fortunately, and must be given no law. The cast, fly, and attachment are all in favour of the net doing its duty. Nearer he comes with no disposition to lie over on his side. He s dipped out still protesting breathlessly. One pound nine ounces, a short golden fish as firm as rubber, and as handsome as paint.

The obsequies are over. You are back in the same place; but number one is not. Or it he is, he has dined well and wisely and s taking his siesta afterwards. Perhaps t is no good moving: all depends upon one's temperament. Probably I should: and do less well than by stopping. One great advantage in the place is that there are no grayling. It is distinctly a trout beat. Number one, or a new one, may appear any moment.

By an effort that nearly leaves your boots in the mud, you emerge to try elsewhere - with the result that you come upon grayling. No: number one must be revisited. The deep tone of his swallow sounds as though it came from a capacious throat. After all, he is there; and as to his caution - well, any man on a subscription water after a week of mayfly thrashing knows what to expect. Besides, fancy if you leave him, and the place is taken by another rod, who gets him.

You once more wedge yourself into the old position, arrange the rushes round you, oil the hackle of your fly, straighten out the landing net, stick it butt end into the mud, and fix your attention upstream. Some more fly come? down. There is a new riser, a trout certainly, 1 list in the middle between the two weed patches taking fly after fly. You can see his broad tail doing its work in the current. Get your fly to head the next real one that is coming down. Habetne?

He has got it, is being firmly held as he comes all the way to the net right on the top of the water, splashing like a moorhen. He is hooked as securely as a trace, with the cast in addition right round his head and under both gills. As exactly a pound fish as one could draw to scale, smallish but game. He ought to have had a more open chance; but war is war with woe to the vanquished.

Now I cannot describe the capture of number one: for I did not get him. I saw him rise frequently, and am convinced to this day he was the real three pounder for which I am waiting. All I can say in my favour is that he not only declined my flies - for I tried several at intervals - but many and many a real one; selecting only those which gave a movement as they passed. He had a sailor's eye for rig, had overheard some conversation, had taken hold of something that stuck in his head, and had formed a resolution of ' no flutter no rise ' which he was adhering to.

All the same I got another that evening, though with a downstream cast, in the dusk at what I really thought was a rat. He bored to the bottom and stuck there, seemingly in weed; but after I had shortened up below him, he gave way easily and got into a clump of muddy rushes. After a considerable amount of pulling, lifting, and struggling the fly came away. His way back to the water was easy enough: my way towards him extremely difficult and dirty. Groping about in the mud I at last felt his form and managed to get him out; altogether a clumsy and unsporting proceeding, as he had to be well washed before taking his place with the others.

On the way back I got entangled in a clump of that huge weed or plant that resembles rhubarb; the great prickly leaves being well over my head as I stumbled knee deep among their boggy roots. Afraid to push on for fear of getting into still deeper ground, 1 had to back out, and strike a better line home across the ditches, hot, itchy, dirty and wet.

Speaking of mayfly fishing in connection with the eyesight or discernment of trout, I had an example the next morning that was rather interesting. There is a deep and unused lock i n one of the side branches of the river, indeed part of an old canal, the lower end to which is blocked by large bushes, growing at either side of the masonry; with a dense and deep muddy pool between them. No one, even with thigh boots or waders, could venture into it, so that the place Is practically unfishable excepting from the lock wall some ten feet above it, in both senses of the word. Walking up to the edge of the lock, as I had often foolishly done on previous occasions, one usually caught sight of a good fish who doubled under a bush or a weed before his size could be estimated.

On the morning in question I had ample leisure; so, before approaching the lock, I lay down on my stomach just behind a weed clump with chin on hands, and peered over. To my disappointment nothing moved or showed itself. Above me - upstream - was the deep pool under the rotten old lock gate, and I thought once or twice that I could make out the waving tail of a monster fish, but agreed it was probably a shadow or a large water plant. While engaged in this speculation a mayfly appeared, circled round the pool, and then was carried over to the opposite side into the very narrow run that connected the two pools. I saw it going along and meant to watch it when it got slowly drifted down to the place between the two large bushes.

All of a sudden, up the narrow run, from the very place named, the form of a fine trout appeared, paused for a second - I thought because he had seen me - and then came on with a flash, took the mayfly, turned, and ran back to between the bushes.

Now it is all a question of distance. That I both estimated, and measured as nearly as was possible, making it at least twelve or thirteen yards. The mayfly was in a little trickle not nine inches deep nor two feet wide which extended for several yards below it. The trout was under the heavy bushes in the pool below. Yet he was obviously attracted by the movement of the fly, saw it, and made that special run right out into the shallow open lock to secure it. He was a fish of a pound and a half, very dark and thick looking, judging from his form as he turned.

I remember thinking of sacrificing a loose mayfly, an artificial one, oiling it well and allowing it to float down the same channel; but the guilty look that the trout gave as he seized the real fly and bolted, made me think he would not be taken in. Instead of that, I spent the next hour in trying to get at his holt from below; holding on to willow bushes, that refused to support any weight, while attempting to feel a firm spot for the sole of one's foot. At last by persisting in this I managed to do one thing effectually, caught my fly in the top of the bush and after dragging at it, left just half the cast in the same place.

Below me, still among almost unapproachable mud and high rushes, there was another pool in which I thought I heard a rise, so after affixing a new length of gut and a fly, 1 threw on chance over the rushes and heard it taken by what was a lively trout of just under a pound, who again bad to be hauled through mud and weeds in a degraded manner.

That same evening, and the two following ones, several fine fish were taken by other rods; one of two pounds and three quarters which I saw, as well as others which I did not. The really large trout rarely appeared to give anyone much chance until fully nine o'clock; so that the only plan of perhaps securing a brace is to take up a stand and remain immovable for half an hour, which is rather trying, besides making one feel a bit of a poacher as it grows dusk.

One cannot pretend that trout caught when the fly cannot be seen, give much pleasure to the angler; excepting in the sense of mere possession, So long as one can see, not only the rise but also the fly after it has pitched, all is fair and above board in the matter of skill. Where the rise can be seen, and the fly cannot - which so often is the case in this evening fishing - the strike is a matter of guess work to a great extent, depriving the whole sport of its dry fly character.

The rule of an hour after sunset is no doubt a good one; but I am too well aware that in many places it would spell a reprieve for each and all of the old cannibals that haunt the deep turns of many a river.


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Pictures for The mayfly in Hampshire


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