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Fishing the stream

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When the angler goes out to the river to enjoy an hour or two of dry-fly fishing, he may confine his attentions entirely to trout that he observes rising to take natural flies from the surface; or he may, in addition to attempting the downfall of all rising fish within reach, cast his fly wherever his experience tells him that a fish is likely to be lying in wait. In the first case he is said to "fish the rise," and n the second he " fishes the stream."

For the first method of securing trout there is claimed a superior charm, a claim that we cannot grant, seeing that it is not easy for us to believe that the part is greater than the whole. The angler who fishes the stream lays his flies as delicately on the water and takes as much advantage of a natural rise as he who fishes the rise; but the former knows, or is rapidly learning, something that is difficult to learn, something that the latter does not know or scorns to apply his knowledge of, viz. - the art of reading the unseen bed of the river, its inequalities, the little pockets between rocks, the deep channels between sunken clumps of weed.

Many people can tell the meaning of a rise, and some can tell whether a rise is caused by a trout or grayling, sea-trout or eel, but not so many can point out the spot where a rise would occur, if a fly should chance to alight upon it.

The purist will probably admit that the other man catches more fish, but he will maintain that the more enjoyable sport is obtained by stalking the rising trout. No man can measure the enjoyment of another. On one day of which we have clear recollections, and an accurate entry in the diary, we killed seven pounds of trout with the dry-fly, and throughout the day we had not one single opportunity of covering a rise. Had we restricted ourselves as the purist suggests, we should not have had a happy day. If an expert in the use of the clear-water worm had been out on that same day, he might have had eight pounds. Would he believe that his sport was less enjoyable than ours?

We would rather have seven pounds to the dry- fly than eight pounds to the worm; but his ideas may be quite the reverse. The only logical conclusion seems to be that the heavier the basket an angler takes by his favourite method, the happier is he. We, ourselves, prefer the dry-fly to all other lures, and with it we fish the rise when there is a rise to cover, and the stream when there is not.

W. C. Stewart, the author of The Practical Angler, who did more to popularise fishing and to educate anglers than probably any other writer, occupies a position in the history of angling between the old-fashioned school of down-stream wet-fly fishers and the modern class of dry-fly anglers.

One of his best known statements is to the effect that the moment the flies alight on the surface is the deadliest of the cast. This dictum is worthy of a little consideration. He fished upstream with three or four flies on his cast, aiming carefully at a rise whenever be had the opportunity of doing so, and, acting up to his beliefs as in the sentence referred to, he cast very frequently, never allowing his flies to travel far towards him.

If he had used a single fly, he would not have given expression to chat opinion, as only accident ally would the fly happen to alight exactly where a trout chanced to be, even though it is admitted that he had au intimate acquaintance with the waters and usually, if not invariably, attempted to reach what he considered a likely spot. In that case he would certainly have found that the fly had very often to travel a considerable distance, down stream before ii was taken; but, by increasing the number of flies on his cast, he increased like wise the possibility of one of them being accepted at the moment of its alighting. The fly gently touches the water, floats momentarily, and then it would sink, but before it has time to sink a trout looking upon it as a natural Insect just arrived from the air has sucked it down.

Stewart was a dry-fly fisher who knew all the intricacies of the game save one: it did not occur to him to dress his flies with such materials as would make them float or to oil them for the purpose of preventing them sinking. Webster, of Clyde fame, adopted the same methods, and " fished the stream."

In broad rivers containing wide-spreading streamy shallows and great pools, such as Clyde or Tweed in their lower reaches, we find it quite impossible to confine ourselves to fishing the rise, and we think, bat we do not declare, that others will agree.

Suppose that a dry-fly angler with all his deadly apparatus in readiness is standing on the gravel beside a fast-flowing stream of Tweed, we affirm that a dozen trout might rise between him and the opposite bank, and he would fail to detect a single one. Rises are of many kinds, and some of them are so quiet and disturb the water so very slightly that it requires very careful observation from close range to distinguish them. Some men can spot a rise when others would see nothing, it requires not so much good eyesight as trained eye sight.

Thinking that some activity is going on which is invisible from the bank, the purist may wade out twenty yards or more and take his stand, motion less, watchful, and patient as a heron, but he may stand there for an hour or a day, and there may not occur a single rise for him to see. On the other hand he may see a trout rising on the far edge of the waving stream. To arrive within casting distance he may have to wade farther out, and to avoid the fatal drag he may have to make a detour and, such is the variation from moment to moment on such a piece of water, swinging and swaying from side to side with the wind, or owing to the irregularities of the bottom, that he cannot tell exactly where to place his fly. The spot may be far from the bank, and often there are no land marks to guide him. If he casts at all he is " fishing the stream "; if he decides to wait in his chosen position until the trout rises again so that he may have the place definitely fixed for him, he may wait for ever.

We have spent many hours watching and study ing the trout in a river, particularly trout whose stations we knew. It is quite a common thing to see a large fish rise once and not again for hours, even though hosts of flies continue to pass over it; all anglers must have observed this.

Why a trout should ignore so much food we do not profess to know. Perhaps it conceived a sudden notion to taste a fly and then, satisfied or disappointed, desired no more, but the greater likelihood is that these desirable trout do not readily feed during the day, but prefer to wait until nightfall, when they become less suspicious.

In the course of a long holiday by the river we discover one or two of these trout, and every day, as we move up the water, we exercise the greatest care with our cast over the fateful places. We have dislodged the original tenant, and also a successor or two from some of them, but we do not think we can claim to be " fishing the rise " when the rise was observed a week or more beforehand. A trout, no matter how large it is, will accept a fly some time, and therefore we offer one as often as we can, any day we may arrive at the right moment.

In some narrow streams easily commanded from bank to bank without wading, we often limit our selves to rising fish, as it is a comparatively easy matter to locate exactly and get within reach of a rise fifty yards or more away in a few seconds; but in broad rivers where we may be wading only knee-deep and yet be many yards from the bank it would take us a long time to reach the place. As a rule, therefore, we would make no effort to reach it at once; but instead fish quietly and gradually up to it, and while doing so we might be fortunate enough to see the trout break the surface again. If not, we would search the vicinity care fully and thoroughly, and we might capture not only the fish we had seen rising but one or two besides.

What the angler should note is that in a stream connected with a pool, trout collect for the purpose of feeding, not after the hatch of flies occurs, but in expectation of it. If a few trout are seen rising in the stream, the conclusion is that others would rise also, if there were flies enough; therefore the angler should cast his dry-fly not. only to the rising, but also to the expectant, trout.

Now there are many ways of presenting the flies when one s fishing the stream." The cast may be delivered directly upstream or at right angles to the current, or at any angle between these two directions.

The angler, who has plenty of time at his disposal and infinite patience at his command, would possibly take from one stance and with one length of line a number of casts between the limits mentioned, draw off a yard of line and repeat the process, and so continue until he was casting his maximum length, or, alternatively, reaching the opposite bank; he would then step forward a yard or two and go through the sequence again, proceeding in this way until he arrived at the strong rush at the neck; but such a systematic way of going about the business is beyond the powers of most mortals. There is no question, however, that a long stream searched in this way can yield an astonishing number of trout.

The secrets of success are: Cast often and lightly, allow the flies to float not more than two yards, pick the line off the water with as much care as it is laid on, beware of drag, have the rod always in striking position, watch the flies, and strike at once gently but quickly.

One essential is that the line must be well smeared with some agent whose purpose is to keep it on the surface, and no matter what preparation is used it will require frequent renewal. As the line must be dried before it may be treated, and as a visit to the bank is likewise required, the process necessitates the expenditure, of time and trouble, possibly too when a healthy rise is in progress; still it must be attended to, for neglect of it will prevent a fish taking the fly, or, if by some lucky chance an offer is forthcoming, it will render all attempts at striking entirely futile.

The angler methodically fishing up such a stream, and receiving little reward for his pains, may be tempted to withdraw from the contest, but he should on no account omit to fish the extreme top, where the water breaks over the rocks or gravel. Close into the edges of the rough water he should place his fly, as there are invariably feeding trout lying there ready to launch themselves without hesitation upon anything in the least resembling food. A short line, a quick eye, and a ready strike are all called for, but it is well to remember that, owing to the shortened line and the expected offer, the strike is apt to be too vigorous.

Let the angler fish the rise when he can, but in the absence of rises, or when they are few and far apart, he should fish the stream. Why should he sit idle and miserable on the bank when there may be trout willing to rise whenever a fly passes over head?

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