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Doubts and difficulties


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He makes a mayfly to a miracle, and has furnished half the country-side with angle rod. (Spectator, 1711.)

Although the rising generation of trout and grayling are justly credited with being far in advance of their ancestors of two hundred years ago, when the lines at the heading of this chapter were written, it must be admitted as a counterpoise that modern gut and flies have been brought to something very like perfection. I have never mounted a fly upon a cast plucked from the tail of a white stallion - a recipe one reads in old angling books - so whether Hercules casts are better than this I cannot say, but they offer little to be desired, and are made in a variety which must satisfy the most exacting dry fly fisherman.

Drawn or Undrawn Gut.

'That is the question.' Indeed a parody could be written upon this vexed soliloquy hymen who have either failed to rise a shy trout by using too stout a cast of undrawn gut, or have been broken by the only two pounder they ever hooked owing to the fineness of their 3 x point.

You will find yourself inclined to hold a brief for either side of this important controversy exactly as your recent experience of success or disaster prompts you to speak. And your shifting views will generally be warmly opposed by a counsel in waders on every occasion. Upon the principle that whether you marry or whether you don't you are sure to regret it, so the dogmatic man, who makes an iron rule with respect to drawn or undrawn gut, is bound to have opposing evidence thrust upon him in the form of disappointing blank days, or of exasperating smashings.

Take the case of undrawn namely natural gut first. No one will deny that, however well soaked it may be, it will not and cannot drop a small fly upon the water with anything like softness. Nor will it as a rule allow the fly to ride upon the surface with the natural ease so often necessary to deceive fish in a clear water. The obvious result is that when small flies of any particular pattern are proving successful, the men who use undrawn gut are hardly able to move a fish, while their fellow anglers have basketed two or three brace.

But now change the conditions to days when a mayfly, an alder, a Welshman's button, or a sedge, are the flies to put up; when the fish run larger and the water is weedy. What is the result? The undrawn gut not only stands the strain of the constant casting with the heavier fly; but it enables the strike to be made with more decision, and gives a confidence in playing and guiding through weeds where drawn gut so frequently fails.

With trout, the question practically resolves itself into one of size of fish and state of water In Hampshire, where the keepable limit usually varies from three quarters of a pound to a pound, and where at certain seasons weeds and celery beds are prevalent, undrawn gut is far the best to keep to, especially from mid-May onwards. On rivers and streams where the limit is expressed in inches - eight, nine, or ten--or where the water is gravelly and free from all obstacles, the advantages of drawn gut are beyond all cavil.

With a really good 3 x point no one should be broken by any trout of under a pound in open water.

If the parting occurs with the strike, then this has been made clumsily; from too stiff a check on the reel, or from a line held too tightly by the hand. Where the break occurs later on, it is probably owing to the fish being allowed to get into a strong current below the angler, to the cast being touched by the rim of the net just when it is taut, or to its hitching up in a hush or rushes close to the bank. In any event it means, seven times out of ten, bad management more than what can be fairly termed bad luck.

Again, a windy day introduces a new element even where fish are small, for then the drawn points mean the cracking off of the fly at times when the angler can scarcely blame himself for making too quick a recovery. As moreover on such days there must necessarily be a ripple on the water, often sufficient to half drown the fly, the nicety of casting is less important and consequently the natural gut cast is a distinct advantage.

For evening fishing too, meaning by that when it is too dark to be able to see your fly upon the water, or when you have mounted a somewhat larger bodied pattern, drawn gut is a mistake, a snare, and a delusion; as it seldom stands a touch from a branch or a stake when it is occupied in its proper vocation of hauling a struggling trout over the edge of the net, or of lifting its head and shoulders clean out of the water, so often the only alternative under the dark shade of a steep and grassy bank, or while craning over on one's stomach on the top of camp shedding. To lose a really good fish after a poor day at such a time when you have actually counted him as your own, and thought how his contour will cause envy and admiration at the inn bar, seems to take years off one's life.

The Treatment of Gut.

I have rather put the cart before the horse by speaking first of soaked gut in action rather than of how to treat it before it comes to the river bank.

In cases where you only get a fortnight's holiday a year to devote to fishing, it will be best to buy complete made up casts of nine foot lengths, which should be sold each in a separate transparent paper envelope on which their exact description is entered such as ' stout to finest undrawn,' 'medium to 3x' et cet.

Among the many appliances now offered to anglers, a tin cast box containing loose felt or flannel for damping purposes can be bought for a shilling, and a couple of casts should be put into it to soak for some hours as well as several fine points. This soaking must not be continuous day and night or the gut will become too sodden and rotten. The cast kept in reserve during the day in the box can be taken out and allowed to dry on blotting paper each evening.

Soaked gut is not only more elastic and consequently far stronger, but in that condition alone is suitable for any kind of knotting, or for the mounting of flies. So much has gut improved of late years that t is now quite easy to buy points of sixteen and eighteen inches varying from those which are perfectly natural - namely have never been passed through the drawer and have consequently a certain spiral twist on them - and arte strong enough to manage a two and a half pounder among weeds, to almost gossamer gut of 4 x and 6 x which may be used for grayling in gin clear water on a chalk bottom who need the wiles and accessories of an angling artist to be attracted to the surface.

As to the proper time and place for attaching flies to gut opinions must always differ; hut the plan of doing so in cool blood indoors before the breakfast things have been cleared away, may at any rate be tried. It is more extravagant of gut certainly, as such mounted flies kept in a damp box, or still better in the damp flannel fold of a flap cap, are bound to become either rotten as to their gut or rusty in their barbs, and must be sacrificed from sheer economy in the matter of breaks.

Where you know your water, and have quite made up your mind irrespective of local advice as to what patterns you intend to use or try, the threading process at the breakfast table is useful and interesting. The points have of course been soaked the evening before, so that fastening the fly becomes not only a leisurely process but is attended to with a care and nicety that minimises accident at the bank side. It is a satisfactory plan to look at the knot through a pocket magnifying glass, and see that it has fallen into its place rightly, whether you use the Turle or the double-jamb knot.

The possession of half a dozen of such flies mounted for immediate use, makes the charge of pattern an easier, quicker, and safer process when executed in the presence - we will not say in the sight of - a readily rising fish. There is then no attempted threading of a semi-blind eye in a hitting wind or a pattering shower, with its risk of snipping off some of the wing or hackle with the scissors.

The Strike.

Having attempted to compromise the controversy upon gut drawn or undrawn, it is no use shirking the still more important one of when and how to effect the strike. Fishing, as we all of us must often do in full view of that professional bystander, whose occupation is to spend his eight hour day upon the bank giving advice to amateur anglers, who could manage to dispense with his company, one cannot avoid remembering the remarks thus occasionally volunteered: that ' you were not quick enough '; and that ' the gentleman down here last week never missed a fish.'

Still, it is not only bankside Jeremiahs who advocate this desperate quickness in striking; for I see in the ' House on Sport ' that a fellow member, after upwards of ten years experience on the Test, gives the advice to strike as quickly as you possibly can. It is obvious therefore that the practice must have much to recommend it; and in the case of grayling I agree unreservedly.

With trout, especially fair sized trout, my own opinion tends to dissent; for, bearing scores of cases in mind where I have failed to hold a fish after the strike, I believe that it has more often been due to the hurried than the leisurely practice. Two friends of mine, whose knowledge and experience are equal to anyone's, took pains to test the time occupied by several trout in the process of rejecting an artificial fly, and came to the conclusion that extreme quickness of strike was not nearly so effective as allowing time for the fish to turn down after he had risen and taken it.

In making these experiments the one stood upon a plank bridge just above the rising fish, while the other threw floating flies over them from a down stream position, and delayed making the strike until he was told to do so.

That was on a Devonshire river in quiet and clear water. To give him time to close his mouth upon the fly therefore sounds reasonable under similar conditions. Of course in a cross- stream cast with a long line out, the immediate strike cannot be immediately communicated to the fly, so that ' the time to close his mouth upon it ' is given by the straightening of the sag on the line as it is lifted from its curve in the current.

In casting for a trout rising above one, a first class rod on the Itchen gave me his recipe, which was that as he always fished from a kneeling position he made a practice of rising to his feet directly his fly was taken, and striking as he did so. For several seasons I nave acted upon this advice and can recommend it as a plan to adopt. Everyone will probably agree that large fish rise more slowly than small ones; so that if the pause between the rise and the strike often results in losing the fish, there is a satisfaction n knowing, or even in thinking, that it is the smaller ones which escape.

Better allow two half pounders to reject your black gnat and save their skins, than twitch it out of the jaws of a pounder whose intention it was to turn down with it first.

After the Strike.

Before touching on the subject of playing and netting, it will be as well to mention the different methods adopted of managing the cast and line ust after the strike has been made - and has fastened. Many anglers always strike from the reel: that is to say they have their line taut between the lower ring and the winch; which, having an adjustable check, prevents that break so inevitable to the beginner who keeps his fingers pressed tightly upon the line. Personally I have almost given up this plan of striking from the reel, and prefer to hold a loop of line in my other hand, taking care to keep it well vaselined so that it slips quite lightly between thumb and first finger when striking.

Several advantages can be cited in support of this method, one being that in making the cast the release of the loop causes the line to extend itself better, and thus places the fly more lightly upon the water. Another distinct advantage is that after making a cast upstream you can, by taking hold of the line between the lower ring and the reel, gradually draw t into a loop, and so counteract the action of the stream and keep the line from sinking as the fly travels towards you. This of course enables the strike to be made on a line fairly straight, or assists m picking it off the water far more cleanly after your fly has passed over the rise without being taken.

Indeed a second and a third loop can be held quite easily, and retained in the hand as you walk upstream keeping the line in the air. With a very little practice a series of loops can be held, until the line beyond the rod point becomes so shortened that you can reach and examine the fly. I find this a far simpler plan, especially when wading, than always winding up from the reel, in spite of the fact that at first it gives some trouble among thistles or coarse grass owing to the loops catching in them.

Should the fly be taken, and the strike be well timed, then the pulse of the situation can be felt far better by the line in the left hand: indeed it is like a rein in the horse's mouth. You can feel what he is doing - almost what he is going to do, whether to bolt or to back.

This the reel cannot impart with the same certainty. If a fish immediately turns and runs down stream towards you, the pulling in of the line 11 loops, or even allowing it to fall upon the ground, is a quicker process than winding it up. Your hand is already upon the line, and there is no need to shift the rod from one hand to the other. To do this while backing downstream at the same time is the only process I know to keep a firm hand upon the fish and prevent losing touch with him.

After this first rush is over, of course it is advisable to recover the line upon the reel, although I have frequently netted the fish out before being able to do this. A disadvantage is that in winding up the loops of slack one is apt to overwind them, or to find them lying so untidily on the reel that it necessitates a rewinding before beginning to cast again.

Playing and Netting.

Precisely the same doubts and difficulties arise in the matter of playing a trout after the strike has proved successful. Some anglers accuse others of being too rough. Others accuse some of being too easy and nervous - of allowing a half-winded fish to cruise about and enlarge the hold of the hook until it allows room for the barb to pull through on the slightest slacking of the line.

Circumstances of size or behaviour of the fish on that particular river or season - circumstances of the size of your fly and strength of your tackle - circumstances of weediness of the water, either on the surface or the bottom, or swiftness of the current- - circumstances ot bushes or rocks below you, or of stakes and obstacles on the far side, must all be taken into account.

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