[from Harry Druidale, Fisherman ..., 1898]
Yon are to note that we anglers love one another: men of mild and sweet and peaceable spirits, as indeed most anglers are.-PISCATOR.
ANGLING is described by Izaak Walton as the contemplative man's recreation, and aptly so, for the angler is much alone, and the mind of man cannot long remain inactive, consequently lie must think, and his mind is directed to think of the things he sees in the green meadows, or the wild uplands, and he will oft be inclined to think that the happiness of man in this world doth consist more in contemplation than in action.
The immediate object of angling, no doubt, is to capture fish, but after all, that is not the only object. Angling has a great advantage, it can be pursued when a man has become advanced in years. It may be compared to rowing in this respect, that a man may make the exercise either light or heavy. Angling appears to be particularly beneficial to persons who are compelled to pass most of their time indoors ; they have the advantage and the pleasure of being able to pass a long day in the open air, and enjoy their pastime without undue fatigue. Their attention is naturally directed to the surroundings. They note the arrival of the spring migrants, the sandpiper, the wagtails, the swallows, swifts, and cuckoo among others of the feathered tribe. Their ears are charmed by the music of the sweet songsters, such as the thrush, blackbird, and the lark, the last named soaring up until he is a mere speck in the blue sky, and singing the while. Then how interesting the sandpiper is, as he flits over the river, with his piping note, and the lapwing, as he circles in his flight with plaintive cries; how he suddenly comes to the ground, and runs along with one wing trailing as if wounded. We then know that we are in the neighbourhood of a nest, and that the bird is endeavouring to lure us from it. As we approach a bend in the river, a startled heron rises with heavy flight and hastens off, and we now and then come on to a couple of wild ducks with their brood of ducklings.
How tame the ducks are at this season, so different to a month or two hence! Their tender care for their young is the reason; they will not forsake them, even for fear of man. This must raise a beautiful thought in the angler's breast, the natural affection of wild creatures for their young, quite as strong as that of the human parent. When a mere child an incident came under my notice.
At that time, as I was too young to climb a tree, I found a boy, who is mentioned in another chapter as Tommy, to climb for me. One day Tommy got me the nest of a chaffinch from a tree, and there Were about four eggs in the nest. As I was carrying the nest the hen bird perched on my shoulder, and called " spink ! spink ! " so plaintively, that I begged Tommy to replace the nest in the tree, but he would not do so. Ever since that time I have felt a great regard for the chaffinch.
In the course of a day's fishing the angler often sees pretty bits of scenery which he would never see otherwise, such as grottos of ferns in out-of-the-way places, mosses of various hues, water dripping from rocks, and such like. The angler of the present day may be divided into two classes (1) the man who fishes from a real love of the sport, and such a man is born, not made; or as our Father Izaak says, "Angling is somewhat like poetry, men are to be born so "; and (2) the man who fishes for the sake of emulation, or because it is considered the right thing to be a fisherman. An angler of the former class likes to fish alone, to land his own fish and carry his own basket, to be alone with nature, to be left to his own thoughts. The angler of the latter class wants an opponent, some one to fish against. His sole object is to beat the other man, and should he succeed in doing so, he crows over him, and should he not succeed, he is often morose. To my mind emulation in fishing is most objectionable. A true angler angles for his own pleasure, not for the sake of catching more than anybody else. When he has had fair sport he often reels up, when the fish are taking, because he has captured enough for one day. Then there are men who fish almost every day in the season, men who in effect make a business of it. These men fish from mere habit; they cannot really enjoy it. Fishing is given us for recreation, not as the sole object of life.
If sport is followed to repletion it must become stale, it looses the recreative charm; sport is made into a toil in the end. If a man is constantly intent on beating other men, an end of a day's fishing is often bitterness of spirit; if he fishes having no thoughts of competition, he is at peace with himself and with others, and he can act on.the precept of our Father Izaak, that anglers should love one another. An angling contest is in my view very objectionable. Some men would fain measure sport by a monetary standard, as if money were everything, and the sport of angling of secondary importance ; such men are not true lovers of the art, they are not by nature fitted for contemplation and quietness. They are anxious for the prize at the end of their day's fishing, and to be flattered for their day's performance ; when the result is to a great extent accidental or fortuitous. A prize is offered for the largest trout: one man catches a trout one ounce heavier than the rest and he gets the prize; pray, wherein lies the merit of the performance? Having had our fling at the mercenary angler, we will proceed to address the honest angler on the subject of fishing for trout.
The commonly recognised lures for trout are the artificial fly, worm, and minnow. Creeper and stone-fly fishing are so restricted, as to the place and opportunity, that they need no mention here. When a youth decides to become an angler, he has to consider whether he Will be what is styled an all-round trout-fisher, or what branch of the art he will take up. There are men who confine themselves to fly, others to worm, and a few to the minnow, when minnow-fishing is at all practicable.
In my estimation worm-fishing (including up-stream worm) is the easiest branch of the art, the next fly-fishing, and the most difficult to acquire, the art of fishing with the up-stream minnow in low clear water. My advice to the would-be angler is to acquire all three of the arts, and I will proceed to give my reasons. In the first place, fly-fishing is certainly the nicest and most pleasant branch of the art; our Father Izaak says: "Is it not an art to deceive a trout with an artificial fly? " During the months of April and May the trout take the fly better than worm or minnow, as a rule, and the trout captured with fly in those months are in better condi-tion, and more palatable, than those captured with worm or minnow.
Fly is the favourite and the most nourishing food for trout in the spring months, and fly feeding fish get sooner into condition than the minnow or worm feeding fish do, and under reasonably favourable conditions satisfactory baskets of trout may be secured with the fly in March, April, and May, and well into June; but after June it is generally most difficult to have fair sport with the fly in the daytime, until about the middle of August, and that interregnum is the carnival of the worm and minnow fisher. But let him use these deadly lures with ,extreme moderation, unless he is one of the favoured few blessed with private waters, for nothing causes more friction in trout-fishing clubs than that man who is always plying the worm or minnow. In some cases special rules have to be framed to restrain this objectionable man in his practices. My advice is never to resort to worm or minnow when fair sport may be had with fly, and the angler will then be held in respect and esteem by his brothers of the angle. Even when trout are taking the up-stream worm well, it is a relief to vary the monotony of worm-fishing with the more artistic up-stream minnow, but it must be borne in mind that trout cannot be caught so quickly with the minnow as with the worm.
Then again with regard to the use of the worm, there are many streams in which worm-fishing only is practicable; and what after all is more pleasant or health-giving than to wander by some mountain stream, rod in hand, the only care a few hooks on gut and a bag of Worms, no bother about flies, far away from the busy haunts of man, alone with nature, yanking out a few trout here and there and an occasional herring-sized fish, which looks a veritable monster by the side of the wee anes. To enjoy such sport the angler may hie to the pretty glens of Mona's Isle, and wander about to his heart's content, disturbed by no jealous keeper.
The reader may inquire about the mysteries of the dry fly, fishing with the dry fly being considered a distinct branch of the art of fishing; it may here be stated that this book is written from a north country point of view. The so-called wet fly will never, in the northern parts of the kingdom, be extinguished by the dry fly. There is no doubt that the time will come when the dry fly will be more practised in the north than it is now, but so long as men may fish with worm and minnow, the attractions of the dry fly will not be great. Where trout exceed a pound on the average, as in a few south country rivers, it is well worth while to spend much time in endeavouring to allure them with the dry fly, but when in the north country the rising trout is about six ounces or under, the angler cannot afford the time necessary, should he wish to obtain a fair basket of fish.
It is all very well for the man of leisure to amuse himself with endeavouring to catch small trout with the dry fly, but when the business man has escaped from his office or counting; house for about three days, and has travelled thirty or forty miles to the river-side, he naturally wishes to have some material sport, and not to spend his time in experimental dry-fly fishing. If he knows what he is about, he can obtain sport with the worm or minnow.
The Wharfe, with its numerous flats of shallow water, is a fair specimen of many north country streams, and I should like to make the acquaintance of the man who could in low water kill 10 lb. of trout with the dry fly in a day in a similar stream. Probably he might kill his three brace or so, as in the south country, but what a difference in weight!
In these days when a man is considered either a very good or very fortunate angler who can capture 10 lb. of trout in a day in ordinary club waters, it is refreshing to turn over the pages of such renowned anglers as Professor Wilson (Christopher North), Stoddart, and Henderson, and to specu-late how they managed to make their immense hauls of trout, and what they might do in Yorkshire rivers at the present time. If Professor Wilson had kept an angling diary it would have been exceedingly interesting. We are fortunately in-debted to Mrs. Gordon, his daughter, in her Memoirs of Christopher North, for some interesting information as to his fishing exploits. We are informed that between the 25th of July and the 26th of August 1815 he killed in the Highlands 170 dozen of trout; one day 19 dozen ; in Loch AWe, in three days, 76 lb. weight-all with fly.
What delightful reading the inimitable Nodes are even at this date! what ambrosial nights they were with the flowing bowl, and the words of wisdom and of wit emanating from the soul of the immortal Christopher ! I commend the 36th Nodes for the angler's refreshment, in Which the Ettrick Shepherd credits himself, as the result of a day's amusement, with 4 or 5 dozen trout and a 20 lb. salmon, caught with the fly, and 2 dozen trout caught with the otter, mounted with 150 hooks; and he Winds up with 25 pike and 25 eels caught on night lines.
Taking leave of the romantic Christopher we turn to the pages of Mr. William Henderson's most interesting work (My Life as an Angler), and we find that Mr. Henderson, in June 1854, killed 27 lb. of trout in the Glen in four hours with worm, and assuming that the trout averaged a quarter of a pound each, as Mr. Henderson's narrative indicates, he killed trout at the rate of 27 an hour, and that in four successive days in June 1859, in twenty-seven hours' fishing, he killed 81 lb. of trout with the worm. Mr. Henderson also records some large captures with the fly. Taking leave of Mr. Henderson we commend to the reader the veteran Mr. Stoddart's Angler's Ranable.s and Angler's Songs, a most delightful book, for some wonderful captures of trout. He will read how Mr. John Wilson, the son of the Professor, killed 26 dozen trout in one day, and Mr. W. Macdonald, of Powderhall, killed in six hours in Teviot, in a part of the river which runs through a poaching district, 57 lb. of trout.
Well, I trove that a regular tiptop poacher would hardly beat this, so Where, my brethren of the angle, is the line to be drawn between fair fishing and poaching? The distinction appears to consist only in the mode of capture. The honest angler is supposed to capture fish by delusive means, the poacher by force.
After reading the exploits of anglers in the Nodes, An Angler's Rambles and Angler's Songs, and 1L7y Life as an Angler, it is not to be wondered at that anglers are usually credited with exceedingly well-developed imaginations by the persons denominated scoffers, one of which class, no doubt, Was Ben Jonson, who described an angler as a fool at one end of a rod, with a worm at the other. However, it is consolatory to feel that among the so-called fools there were and are many eminent men learned in the law and science, and divines, such as Sir J. W. Chitty, Sir Ford North, and the late Bishop of Wakefield, Sir Henry Manisty, Sir Humphry Davy, the Rev. Chas. Kingsley, Colonel Hawker, and many others. The pleasures of angling are exemplified when one thinks of the eagerness with which such eminent men rush off to endeavour to capture a few trout, and perchance a salmon; how such great cases as that of Bardell versus Pickwick sank into in-significance when my lord came to be engaged in the case of Judex v. Salmo fario-or more still, Judex v. Salmo salar.
What can be the great charm of fishing? Is it because the legitimate lures are steeped in fraud and concealment? The artificial fly is the perfection of fraud. The angler offers the trout a piquant fraud in the shape of a hook clothed with feathers and silk, whereby the poor trout is deceived. The worm-fisher conceals a hook with a worm. The minnow-fisher lures the trout with a minnow, apparently in difficulties as he wobbles down the stream. Fishing is undoubtedly a fine art, so is fraud. Can it be that the savage nature of man delights in fraud or violence, and is developed by the predatory instincts inherent in man'?
De Quincey classed murder as one of the fine arts. Now the shooter, as compared with the angler, is an honourable man; he brings down his quarry per vi el armis. He would think it iniquitous to bait a hook for a pheasant. Who can gauge the heart of man? At the best, what constitutes sport is custom or habit. Why should it not be considered sport to catch fish by any possible means, according to the fancy of the fisherman? Why should a man who catches about 30 trout with worm or minnow be classed as a kind of poacher, while he who captures 50 with fly is congratulated as an honest angler?
" Chacun is son gout " should be the motto of the angler : live and let live. The minnow or worm fisher is entitled to as much consideration as the fly fisher. I write thus because I am aware that many persons, who confine themselves to the artificial fly, look down with contempt on anything which they do not themselves practise, and they appear to do so from a want of appreciation, a lack of sympathy with others.
I contend that worm and minnow fishing, practised to a reasonable extent, are beneficial to trout streams; thereby the overgrown trout, which have acquired the habit of feeding on their fellows, are weeded out, consequently the stock of fair-sized trout is kept up. It is generally admitted that over grown trout are seldom caught with the fly. With regard to most rivers, it would be beneficial to extract therefrom all trout of a pound weight or upwards. There is quite as much reason for weeding out voracious trout as the pike. With regard to the edible qualities of trout, so far as my experience goes a trout under half a pound is more toothsome than one of more than that weight; there is, therefore, no object to be gained in endeavouring to increase the size of trout in most northern streams. When a trout has got to a certain size and age, like man, he begins to deteriorate. This chapter cannot be better concluded than in the words of our Father Izaak, as an introduction to the next chapter-"I have found it to be a real truth, that the very sitting by the river-side is not only the quietest and fittest place for contemplation, but Will invite an angler to it."