"And tell of pair is well as gain That waits us on the morrow." (Eric Mackay.)
Newspaper articles on fishing, or letters from friends on holiday, almost always speak of success-- disappointing and qualified, but still, of success. Downright failure, an utter blank day, is never alluded to "n the present tense. It may have taken place last season, or even last week; but it forms no subject matter for a Saturday column, or for a yarn to a brother angler unable to leave town.
And yet, in the early days of fishing, with what dire persistence these blanks occur. To forget about them is best. To slur them over is pardonable: hut, in describing angling as it really is, to those who wish to learn all its fites and mysteries, failures and exasperations, one cannot maintain a dishonest silence.
On certain days blanks seem preordained. The total inability to hook, or even attract a fish s not always the fault of the ' rod,' the fly, or the cast; although if trout are rising, it is best to infer that one of the three factors is at fault. You start badly, perhaps by putting up your red in too close proximity to the water, and then cast at random expecting like Micawber that something will turn up. You remember an occasion when this happened, and fatuously you continue to walk up the bank casting, when, provided it is not too cold, you had far better sit down and watch the water,
but on some days as we say nothing happens: one is obliged to stroll on. The best plan, if there is no suspicion of a rise in the quieter stretches, is to look out for a place where a fall or a sharp fin disturbs the stream and creates eddies, swirls, and backwaters. Here again it is better to wait and watch than to whip the surface at once.
Remember that good trout are especially fond of lying just between the current and the backwash - n a place where floating or semi- suspended matter will circle slowly round and round among the bubbles.
Good eyes and good observation will usually detect an occasional suck by a trout which is poised at an angle of 45 degrees, and which always at much the same angle allows himself to drift in a three foot circle. When looking at such a place from a bridge on a non-fishing day, or on to a piece of private water, I have often watched a trout for half an hour and counted the number of times that he takes something off the top of the water; and also noticed the false rises he makes, merely bringing his nose within an inch of the surface and then dropping back as though the object were not worth the effort of opening his mouth.
At intervals a distinct blade like stroke of the tall and a snap would occur, showing how very carefully the floating food is scrutinised and appreciated.
Bearing this experience in mind, I would repeat that it is best as a rule to wait and watch for at least live minutes. But at the same time there is no need to go too close, and failing the sight of any dimple in the water - difficult indeed to see if there is a dancing light - a trial cast must be made. Repeat it foot by foot up the run, not omitting the extreme sides under the projecting willow bushes or brambles. On many and many occasions this cast at random will be successful. The fly disappears- and you have tightened and struck the fish before being aware of it. He bores down hard, you hold him perhaps almost too firmly, and he comes to view with a quivering jump a clear foot out of the water, and seems to shake in the air. Lower your rod point of course, to lessen any resistance and prevent his falling athwart a taut line; which is what he may have done before to another angler.
But I am forgetting this is a blank day, a day of disaster. You hook the fish indeed and he gives a sidelong leap on the surface, a convulsive squirm, and your fly almost strikes you in the face. We all know the feeling: take it as read; and pass up and on to the still water above the run.
Whip away under the rushes of the opposite bank. There! two or three tidy fish have already run up out of the shallow, so that your hours of failure are pursuing you, or rather you are pursuing them. The next stretch is cold and windblown, a row of stakes is on the left, and shallow water at your feet. You are no good at left hand casting so it seems utterly hopeless to go on. That fish you have lost - the only bit of sport enjoyed all day - is on your mind, and it may be well worth while after a pipe-filling pause to approach him again, this time from above, with a long line and a wet fly. If he is not in situ but has retired with toothache another may have taken his place, and I quite agree that the laborious detour through the meadow and over two lots of barbed wire, in order to again get below him, seems hardly worth the trouble under the circumstances.
Fish down the run with a hackle fly for choice - a drowned female blue upright is as good a pattern as any - and hope to attract a non-feeding fish. It is a forlorn game I know- on such a day; but if you cannot get one by orthodox means you must try for a fluke. If you have reason to believe that the run contains good trout put on a dopper. It may be more attractive n a place like this, especially in the broken water. Probably a small fish will rise at it almost at once and you will notice his whole yellow form turn over the cast although scarcely a check comes to the line.
Of course everything depends upon the season If our supposititious blank day occurs in March or April you have very little chance after five o'clock. And yet this moment I can remember a last half hour in mid April when between 5.30 and 6 p.m. 1 arrived back at the pool where the rod had been put together earlier in the day.
It had been an utter blank rendered memorable by bail luck, bad fishing, bungling and a break. My creel was empty of everything; my temper, patience, and appetite at the last lap, and I speared the rod with a thud in the turf by the railway above the stone bridge overlooking what we called - in July - the peal pool. Under the point of the bush fringe opposite there was a rise, a second, and a third - rises clearly at floating flies. The fly being quite dry enough for the purpose, I knelt down and pitched it above the spot expecting a flap from a fingerling. Instead of that it was taken and proved to be a bright hair pounder. The others continued; and although the train was already in my thoughts, I had ample time for casting.
Within a minute another good rise came, an awkward kick, and he was free. This caused a lull and I began to think of reeling up when two rings came abreast of each other, right under the prickiv bush. One came again, a trifle lower, as though he had dropped back, and the next moment my fly was in the place; a turn came under water as though it were being followed, a strike, and it was taken down in earnest. The fish never showed, he kept well under and seemed stronger - indeed he began to assume the imaginative proportions of a three- quarter pounder.
Round the railing he came, the line resting on barbed wire, until I could get over and lift the skirts of a mackintosh as well as disentangle the net. Then he kicked on a tight line, but it was no good, for as it proved he was only a nine ouncer hooked foul in the cheek.
Never in my experience has a foul-hooked trout managed to regain his pals without taking the hook to prove history.
During the landing process the other fish rose and joined his fellow - only seven ounces - and that ended it. After such a bad day it seemed foolish to wait in the growing cold another hour and a half for the next train. The rod was put down on the platform in good time and, to show how childish a man can become, I was quite elated at this piece of luck. Others had scored a brace, or a blank and so had I but for this accommodating party of four taking a snack after hours--an utter blank just avoided, but so narrowly that the days record is properly included in this chapter.
It is difficult to give hints for days which threaten to be blanks. Change of fly effects something; change of tactics more. The best chance lies in a change of water, I mean to fish parts which ordinarily you pass by. More particularly does this apply to shallows. If the day is blustering think of some exposed shallow pool above or below a cattle ford very often, where trout always see one and move away from the bank long before you get towards casting distance.
Manœuvre up into position during a strong wind flaw and take what cover is offered. If a shingly or grassy beach lie down on your side and wriggle a shade closer to the water. Then, with the wind to assist, begin to cover every square yard you can reach; throwing up and across and allowing the flies - for a dropper here is most important - to float right down stream every time on a lengthening line. These tactics have saved many a blank day, and, so long as the wind continues, some fair chance of sport may extend hour by hour although nothing breaks the surface. This form of approach is most advisable dirty, wet, and uncomfortable as it sounds - indeed it is far wetter and dirtier. Fish which are feeding intermittently under water in a shallow must be undisturbed. They can see through ordinary ripples especially anything tall, but however shy they are they will often take it when one is lying down.
As any fish caught must be beached it is rather interesting to let him drift downstream with an additional ten yards of line to play with and exhaust himself - or get off - among the stones in a few inches of water. He has to be gradually windlassed up, until he slides alongside one's elbow, and basketed without ever rising beyond a sitting posture. Trout of even ten ounces can be slithered up this way without disturbing the shallow; whereas the getting up and back into position in order to use a net may make certain of the one fish but also of no other.
A fine series of blank days can generally be counted upon by those who fish in July and yet are debarred from stopping on until the evening rise. A really hot July day with a low water when brother anglers, who hanker after false gods, whisper treason about clear water worm, can promise as much in the way of a blank as a Barking creek could perform. But it is no use grumbling: if you are out for a day you must fish. Seek out a shady deepish run under some bushes and then from the shallow side try your most artistic casts on a longish line; pitching a dry fly, a small olive or pale watery dun, yard by yard upon the surface, letting it float for five or six feet under bushes which almost touch the water. It will be taken within forty casts, probably at a particular moment when you have looked away. You give a furious belated strike, as though you were trying to fix a meat book into the jaws of a dolphin, and your point with the fly is left in the lip of a really good fish, the cast flying back into an inconspicuous gorse bush yards away in the thistles.
But for this permanent hitch up you would again have cast at the spot where the demon disappeared. We all do this, I don't know why and have often smiled when thinking of the method of reasoning it out. If a badly bepricked trout is to so quickly take a hair of the dog that bit him one must imagine him saying "Well I did enjoy that lacerating tweak that has loosened my tongue: I really did, and I will dally on the top of the water just where it occurred n hopes of getting another taste or at least of being caught in the loins or the eye."
With a played out grayling such a process might be possible - no doubt it has been done as I have cast for and foul hooked a water rat - but with a trout, never.
Still better if on a well thrashed Association water make a point of walking up the right bank - geography books still persist in telling you It is the left bank - and cast with your left hand in the same manner getting the fly well under the long overhanging grasses. On scores of occasions you may find such a bank unoccupied- - even in a May fly week - and car pitch your evening camp there undisturbed. If you have practised for a short time everyday left hand casting comes simple enough in two seasons; while in three or more t is no trouble whatever excepting against a wind, when the extra twitch of the right hand is needed to cut the fly on to the water.
As a blank day cure in Summer I know of no plan better than this one especially if the casts be made parallel to the water, of course from a kneeling position, thus assisting the fly to visit those small bays and inlets which are partially arched over with the tufts that have escaped the hay cutting machine. From personal experience as regards flies used I find that red ant, black spider, and even a small governor have all been fortunate enough to hook and to hold trout of from in to if pounds in such places in the forenoon of a brilliant and unpromising July day.
Two fine fish of about this weight I also once hooked and lost upon a gold-ribbed hare's ear within five minutes of each other; the second after an exhilarating reel screech, and a telephonic line throbbing message from a weed bed to say goodbye. These fish were attracted from a comfortable ventre a terre position with a very short line, one indeed almost partaking of the dap style.
All this has of course occurred to every experienced angler; who possibly says little about it Indeed the experienced angler on the bank differs sometimes from the one that figures in the story books - not very much perhaps, take him all round, but in small particulars. An awkward right hand bank with overhanging tangle where the river is broad or hardly fishable from the other side is the place where many a specimen trout has been picked out. If the man who has left it takes a short cut across the meadow and thus avoids conversation, t may be that he has a slimy secret in his creel, present or prospective, which he wishes no eyes or anticipation to feast upon.
That waiting with a cinnamon sedge between thumb and finger in the dusk of an August evening after a blank day, with a kink in the small of your back from continuous kneeling, becomes one's last resource time after time and season after season. There is an element of fortune in it, as you cannot do much more than watch the twenty yards of bank ahead; but blank after blank can be broken if a left handed awkward cast is the only one likely to attract a cautious trout or an extra large grayling.
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