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Across the moor

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A little, irregular patch of blue on the map, four miles across the moor, over ground that promises considerable exertion, is all our invitation. We might go by road all but the last half mile, but there is one good reason why we should select a more varied route.

Early in the morning we set out along the stony, winding, island track, by the side of a prattling burn; the sound of the tinkling waterfall bids us halt as it does every day, and as usual we peer cautiously through the clusters of pink roses adorning the bank into the deep little pot, black in the shadows, golden in the sunshine. Two or three plump trout, quarter pounders they seem to be, cruise about, sucking down occasionally some; un fortunate midge or rising to examine some object floating in the foam; one a little better than its fellows poises itself in the bubbling water of the fall; the monarch of the pool occupies the best position. Some day, perhaps we may stop to offer them a fly, but it is not likely; we would rather have them where they are than in the creel.

In any case we cannot linger to-day, for ahead lies an adventure. The expedition is one; of uncertainty; there art; many possibilities, but what they are we cannot foretell. Perhaps disappointment awaits; perhaps great fortune will he ours. The loch may be. full of weeds; but again it may be filled with trout; fish of some sort must roam these distant waters.

A walk of over a mile brings us to a loch which has already furnished us with the grandest sport, baskets of bright, lively trout, between two and three to the pound, beautifully marked, magnificently proportioned, short and deep, keen fighters all. Many a time we have enjoyed drifting the fine curving bays, the long indented shore, the calm belt under the trees, and, more than all, the peculiar lines of tall reeds, which never fail to call forth the music of the reel. Here we have fished the rise of the July gloaming, often with conspicuous success, sometimes almost in vain; once or twice, when the chilling mist was wafted along in weird columns, we have been sent empty away; but even that experience has not been invariable even under these depressing conditions.

In spite of these memories, we refrain from putting up the rod, the better to withstand the temptation of these bays, for nothing must be allowed to prevent or even hinder the projected expedition. If that fails altogether then we have the kindly loch to cheer us on our return in the evening, and therein lies the reason for the route selected. Boarding the boat, we row at speed straight to the opposite shore. We feel like pioneers as we draw the craft far up the beach and, shouldering the pack, set oft across the moor. With no guide save our memory of the map and its easy contours, it is possible that, owing to frequent detours necessary to avoid the inevitable peat-hags, we may miss for a time the object of our search. Still, confidently enough, we move forward.

The way is interesting; but the pack is heavy. A long day lies before us and we are well, probably too well, prepared. In addition to a complete equipment for both dry-fly and wet-fly fishing and a generous lunch basket, we carry along wading- stockings and a pair of canvas rope-soled boots. The latter are almost useless for wading a, river, where weight and plentiful nails are required to enable one to withstand a strong current; but for use in a loch they are highly satisfactory, and they do not, moreover, add seriously to the burden on the back. It is well to take them to an unknown loch, for It may possess shallow bays, where wading must be undertaken if the trout are to be reached.

Contentedly we plod along under the sun over the open moor. The fine, fresh breeze is welcome, not only because it is pleasantly cool, but also because it promises good fishing conditions. We reach a loch, long, narrow, and completely filled with weeds and reeds. It is one of our guides and, being expected and impossible of confusion with the object of the expedition, the sight of it occasions only a little alarm. We had noted it on the map as lying on and directing our route, and we had also entertained hopes of casting a fly over it on the return journey. It may be well stocked with fish, but it is unfishable, and it arouses fears that the farther loch may be similarly impossible. We carry on less confident than before.

At length on rounding the shoulder of a hill, we see lying before us a beautiful sheet of water, surrounded on all sides by an irregular ridge which delays discovery from any direction almost until the loch is reached. No weeds line the shores, though a few patches are seen beyond the longest cast from the bank; the bottom is of large gravel; it looks a troutful water, as it sparkles under the brisk westerly breeze. There is no boat visible, and we are thankful that the waders have not proved a superfluous burden.

Although a rest after the arduous walk across the moor would be advisable, we cannot halt until we have searched the rather excessive wave. Waders are donned, and the two rods mounted in a few minutes. No fish are showing, therefore we make a start with a cast of four Loch Leven wet-flies, standard size. Just before us lies a long, narrow neck of water, more like a river than a bay in a loch, towards which the wind is blowing and raising a great jabble. Nothing arrests the progress of the flies, though they are subjected to very varied treatment. Are there no trout in the loch?

More for the sake of variety than with any expect ation, we take up the dry-fly rod, put on a brace of flies, the Rough Olive and a dark Greenwell, lengthen line, and send the cast across a calm frothy belt. At once a trout comes wriggling up, a good fish obviously, and we wait for it patiently, striking as it turns to go downwards. The hook takes hold and the reel sings merrily; a sharp fight ensues, but in time the rod claims command, and we step out into deeper water to use the net.

Back to the shore we come to unhook and examine the victim of the Olive. Fully a pound it weighs, a handsome fish, the first from a new water; it inspires with hope to continue.

Out again the flies go, and immediately another trout accepts the same fly. It duly pays the penalty. In the first four casts we capture four trout, all very fine fish; but the first is slightly the best of the lot. This is sport of a truly remarkable kind. We fish a certain piece of water with the wet-fly, and receive no response; without any invitation from the water in the shape of a rise to the natural fly, we try the dry-fly over the same stretch, and with it take four fish in as many casts, trout that would look well in any company.

We do not know the reason for such a pleasing reception, but we venture to suggest an explanation. Even on the stormiest day, there may be seen on the loch lines of foam and long, only lanes waving slightly but not ruffled; these persist and retain their position for quite a long time. The angler on Loch Leven must know them well and, if he will watch how the boat edges its way across them, he will realise fully that a boat seldom drifts straight down wind, but at an angle to it, and so favours one occupant of the craft more than the other. That, however, is not the matter at present under discussion.

Flies driving before the wind sooner or later arrive at fine of these foam-flecked patches, and there their journey ends; for a circle of froth surrounds each of them, and prevents further movement. Results seem to show that trout are well aware of this, and that they lie under such bits of water sucking down the flies congregated there. So often have we caught trout in these places, at times, too, when there was nothing doing in other parts, that we have come to regard a cast into a calm, frothy patch as very likely to succeed in bringing up a trout. Even a wet-fly will in such a case often score a victory; but a floating-fly of almost any pattern ls decidedly more deadly.

On the river, also, a foam-covered backwater is almost certain to conceal trout. One would think that flies floating on foam would be invisible to the fish below; but that they are not is quite easily proved. In our earliest days we discovered how easy it was to get a trout on the fly, when there was such an aid to concealment, and even yet we do not allow such an opportunity to slip. It always gives us delight to see the black circle appear in the surrounding whiteness, when a fish takes down the fly.

Our marvellous run of luck in the far-off moorland loch seems to be due not so much to any superior virtue in a floating fly, but to the fact that the lure was placed where the trout expected to see it.

Further trial shows that the merry period has come to an abrupt end, repeated casting over the generous stretch producing no result, and reluctantly we wander up the bank, encumbered with two rods and net, but leaving the remainder of the apparatus behind. Our theory seems to have broken down, or the other trout have become alarmed by the struggles of the victims; but the change probably has some connection with the fact that the weather conditions are undergoing modification.

The wind, under the influence of the strong sun shine or other cause, is perceptibly fading away, and in time it becomes only a gentle breeze, a state of affairs very much to our liking, even though it seems to have had some bad effect, only temporary we hope, upon the trout. Provided that it does not fall to a flat calm, we shall remain hopeful that a hatch of flies will arrive, and that the surface of the loch will be plentifully disturbed by the rings of leaping fish. The previous conditions were calculated to supply moths and the like from the surrounding heather, but such accidents are not to be relied upon; we infinitely prefer a less violent gale, a moderate breeze, enough to make casting easy.

Slowly we proceed up wind, watching, when possible, the water for a rise, but more frequently choosing our steps; for at very short intervals marshy places, dangerous with black ooze, covered here and there with an oily film, occur, and then it is wise to decide that the long road is the shorter. Ail along the shore, the water is extremely shallow, only a foot deep twenty yards or more from the bank, and not a trout is seen rising or moving away in alarm at our approach.

A great, broad bay curving round an island of weeds arrests our steps, for here, if anywhere, we are convinced that sport will be forthcoming, if and when the rise begins. Feeling the effects of the strong air of the moor, and having already obtained a few beauties from the loch, we are able to remain inactive for a time, listening to the green plover calling; but our eyes never wander far from the water.

Without warning, first one trout, and then another, rises close to the edge of the weed-bed; their position is easily fixed, but, before we can wade out far enough to lay the deadly Olive on the mark, the longed-for sign is seen all around. Mean time we heed none hut the original marks, and succeed with both casts. Slowly we work round the weeds, covering a rise now and then to right or left. The sport is good, very good, interrupted chiefly by visits to the shore for the purpose of relieving the net of its burden. One trout keeps it nicely weighted for slipping it below a second victim, but two occupants make it awkward and unwieldy to carry. Before long, the rise ceases altogether, as suddenly as it began, and not a fish will move to either lure. Though short it has been productive, for the total catch is the goodly one of seventeen trout, all very fine specimens.

We spend a long time over lunch and rest, follow it by a spell of fruitless fishing, and finally, deciding further effort vain and the creel sufficient in all respects, we say farewell to the kindly loch of the lonely moorland.

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