It may be said, If the trout have learned nothing by experience, and, as the poacher with his otter seems to show, cannot discover the ruse which lies in a fly of steel and fur and feather, why do not they always rise readily at our lures ?
Some of the reasons have been indicated in earlier chapters. They resolve themselves into the knowledge that there are conditions of the weather in which sport is dull, and that the conditions, or some of them, are very common. The trout are not intelligently capricious. Only, they are as sensitive to the atmospherical conditions as the barometer itself. That is their natural safeguard. If they always felt an impulse towards our lures, soon there would be very few of them left. Nature preserves their species by providing on most days of the season an atmospherical sanctuary.
Still, I am confident that many a bad day would be not quite so bad if only we had a wider and more accurate knowledge of flies. Many a time does one fish for two or three hours before, after changes of casts, the proper fly is brought into play. Then the sport is frequently so good that one is tempted to think that there would never be a blank day if only one were nearer complete knowledge of the flies. If the right fly for the day were always on the water punctually. Nature herself would give us the broadest of hints; but, especially on lakes, Nature is frequently taciturn. It is not unreasonable to think that there is a right fly for every day; but one has usually to find it for oneself. This is not altogether to be deplored. In sport, as in philosophy, the pursuit of the truth is fascinating; and in sport, whilst not always in philosophy, discovery of the truth is an unmitigated delight.
That being so, a disclosure of secrets wrested from Nature on streams and lakes might be considered not an unqualified boon; yet I am not without defence in deeming it unnecessary to withhold The Book of Flies which is inset at the beginning of this volume. While proving, I shall trust, helpful in no inconsiderable measure, it will not lead to depletion of the lakes and streams. Thousands of anglers might become much more expert than they are without making any perceptible reduction in the stock of fish those waters hold.
With a defter eloquence than could be spun from words, the Book sets forth one's own experience and a very large mass of carefully sifted traditions; but an explanatory word may here be added to what is said in the Preface. While the pictures of the lake flies are in most cases larger than real insects, those of the stream flies are as nearly as possible of the same size as the insects which they represent. Why should we have large flies for rough water and small flies for water that is calm ? The insects of nature do not grow larger with the rising of the wind and smaller as the storm abates. They are of the same size in all weathers. It is wonderful how readily, when they are disposed to feed, trout see and seize a lure that one might think lost in the tumult of windswept waters. It is even more wonderful how readily, when in the same mood, the fish will rise at a fly so large and gaudy that it seems out of all proportion to a lake in calm or to clear shallows in a stream. In saying this I am, of course, assuming that in both cases the fly is of natural size.
Sometimes, I think, a trout may be induced to take a fly by being offered it over and over again. Well do I remember the lesson which first suggested this. It came on the day of the first trout of the season a few years ago. He rose to my companion. She had been casting over a pool sheltered by banks so high that the wind did not stir the surface in the least. The peacefulness of the scene was suddenly dispelled. The cast fell close to the northern bank, where the water was deep ; the fish threw himself upon the tail fly with a violence strangely out of keeping with the placidity of things. I will not describe the subsequent procedure in detail. There is an absurd recollection of oneself upside-down, hanging from one's toes upon the bank and head towards the depths, striving to reach the trout with a short landing-net. Suffice it to say that we did land him, and that he was a pounder in apparently excellent condition. In England as well as in Scotland trout often seem to be more forward in April than they are sure to be in June. That has puzzled me many a time. The explanation cannot lie in one's natural willingness to find the first trout of the year surprisingly hale and hearty. Although not so plump as it would be in June, the April fish is sometimes brighter of aspect than the summer fish ; and it is mainly by the colour that anglers judge of a trout's condition. If the hues are iridescent and there is no white fringe on any fin, they say the trout is perfect.
Well, just such a trout was the one which the lady caught that morning. Of course, I could not believe that it was really a better fish than the three-pounder which I hoped to see her playing in the second or third day of the Mayfly week. Perhaps the fine appearance which trout often present early in spring is due to the state of the stream. Besides being cold, the water then is full and fresh. Spring is the most vitalising of the seasons. At any rate, in the stimulating sunlit coolness of noon the lady's expression, as I lifted the trout from the water to the grass, was even rosier than it would be when she graced the ballrooms of midsummer.
Is it only a poet's license to assume that all sentient beings may be subject to the same stimulating influence ? No : it is to the weather of spring in England that English woodlands and English meadows and English maids owe their unrivalled beauty. If we protected ourselves and our country from the trying temperatures of its winter solstice, by enclosing these islands in a huge glass case which any trans-Atlantic inventor could easily construct, our women would be no more comely than those of St. Petersburg, who live in hot-houses six months of the year, and our meadows would be as uninspiring as the prairies.
It has not yet been said where we fished that day. The truth is that the name of the stream is unknown to me. In that respect one may liken oneself to a certain dandy well known in Mayfair. Shortly after joining the Fifth Hussars he met a friend belonging to his old regiment, who asked him what regiment he had joined. "O, my dear fellow," said the dandy, " I don't know its name. You go to it from Waterloo." Similarly, we went to the stream from Waterloo. It flows, westward, through a valley in Hampshire. The weather was excellent. As we were putting up the rods, a slaty-blue cloud, tinged in its lower surface as if with smoke, sat high and motionless in the north-west. Soon a wind roared over the hills, and we were pelted for ten minutes with snow of a strange dryness. That was not altogether a bad omen. When the cloud had spent its fury it would leave the valley swathed in stillness and sunshine.
It did; but, unfortunately, there was no hatch of any fly. We did not see a single " natural rise" all day; yet we caught here and there a trout. That is a matter for wonder ; but it is not inexplicable. The lady, I noticed, was very slow in her movement up the stream. She was not content with one cast over any likely place. Cast after cast, to the number of at least a dozen, she made before she stepped a few yards farther. On any reasoning according to the orthodoxy of angling, one would not have expected her to find much sport on that system. One would have thought that if a trout did not rise at the first cast over him, he would be put down, and would stay down. That idea, it turned out, would have been a mistake. Half an hour after the capture of the first fish, the lady was battling with another. After having had the flies thrown over him at least twelve times, he leapt at Mellursh's Fancy with precision and honest. intent. What the intent was, whether it came from appetite or from anger, one cannot say for certain ; but my own interpretation of the lady's success was simple. It was that the trout had not been alarmed by her first cast, or by her second, or by any other. He had not rushed at the lure in anger. He had simply said to himself, as cast after cast dropped over him, "Upon my word, here's a rise of Mellursh ! It is pretty early in the year, and Mellursh cannot be very succulent just yet; but I may as well taste and see".
Some theory of more learned aspect might have arisen were it not that when the question occurred it was lost in a more interesting consideration. The lady, who had been gathering primroses, presented to me a buttonhole. That brought to one's memory the well-known lines of Mr. Wordsworth about a primrose by the river's brim. Before then I had thought of Mr. Wordsworth as being a great poet but otherwise a melancholy wildfowl. Suddenly he was enshrined in one's regard as a great poet only.