Patience: What Kind?—Fishing and Shooting— Angling Cannot be Forced—Billiards, Bridge, and Golf—" Keep your Flies on the Water "—A Magical Last Resource—Some Idiosyncrasies— C-B- S-, Lochleven Boatman, Mr. William Senior, Oneself, J- S-, A- G-, and Lord A- —Trout's Sense of Colour—Sir Herbert Maxwell—The Spectator and Mr. Andrew Lang—Why Fish take Minnows — Ruddy Mayflies — A Reassuring Theory—Ptarmigan, Red-deer, and other Wild Creatures—Colour Must be Right to a Shade— Floating Flies Sometimes a Mistake—Lord Granby, Sir Edward Grey, Mr. Sydney Buxton —The Book of Flies—Its Truth to Nature— The Quality of Beauty—The Mood of Art.
There are many persons who, when they see a man fishing or hear one speaking about the sport, smile in an indulgent indifference. " O no : I could not have the patience !" they say if asked whether they go fishing now and then. Although it has probably been familiar for centuries, this remark is always a fresh surprise. It suggests the possibility that the same worthy persons, if, after seeing a fine picture, or after hearing a great poem, they were asked, "Do you paint?" or " Do you ever write a poem ?" might answer, " O no : I could not have the patience!" Perhaps, as most of us are aware, from hearsay, that making pictures and making poetry are artistic works, and that all achievements in art are, if only for our own sakes, to be held in reverence, there are not many inconsiderate enough to speak about pictures and poetry in that way. Still, the possibility of some such startling speech is worth touching upon. It may coax many good people into readiness to entertain the proposition, which otherwise might seem absurd, that angling is a craft having subjectively much in common with the arts of literature and painting.
Patience, which so many persons suppose to be the necessary qualification, is certainly required ; but it is not a thoughtless or inactive patience. It is not merely willingness to wait an hour, or two hours, or a whole day, watching for an indication that the lure has proved attractive. Patience of that kind has but a small part in the sport. The befitting patience is more than a lazy or stoical endurance. It is continually alert. It embraces much more knowledge and a much greater resourcefulness of thought than are commonly imagined. It is a state of mind more complex than that which is necessary to success in any other pursuit on flood or field.
Contrast it, for example, with that in which one goes out to seek grouse. Instead of having to be lured, the birds are waiting to be shot. Approaching the trout is an action much subtler than walking with a gamekeeper to a place where the grouse are resting. On the grouse-moor a single type of cartridge, that which is charged with No. 5 shot, serves all the season round; but the sportsman on the lake or by the river has many flies, each fly differing from the others, and his success depends upon his knowing the two or three which are appropriate, in colour, in shape, and in size, to the time of the year, and even to the hour of the day. Then, though wilder at some times than at others, winged game are not by any weather put wholly beyond one's reach ; but on a lake, or on a slowly-running river, a dead calm puts trout very nearly so, and if the calm is that of the atmosphere before a thunderstorm it is only by preternatural sagacity that a fish can be made to rise. In fine, any man who has a straight eye and a steady hand can become a good shot; but the straight eye and the steady hand, equally needed on the lake or by the stream, are only, as it were, parts of the mechanical equipment in the art of angling. In order that they may be made effective, eye and hand have to be informed by a code of knowledge and reflection much wider than that which is needed on the moor. Recently, on a Highland loch, James MacCallum, at the oars, expressed this tersely. "Yes," he said: " ye can force shooting; but ye canna' force fishing".
However intimate any man's acquaintance with the habits of trout may be, there comes not infrequently a day on which it proves distressingly insufficient. The water is in splendid order, the air is volatile, and the lures seem right; but not a trout will rise. This shows that the science of angling is still far from being exact. In the British Islands the sport has been a favourite for centuries. By means of rods and lines, books of flies, and cases of minnow-tackle, as well as by oral tradition and literature, instruction in it has been passed on, constantly revised and expanded, from generation to generation; yet there always have been, and apparently there always will be, days on which, even if his life depended on his doing so, the most expert angler could not, by fair means, catch a single trout. Often these days are to all appearance quite like days on which the fish rose at the fly well and the basket was quickly filled; but somehow or other knowledge lingers, the most experienced skill is baffled. It is not that all the trout are asleep or fasting. Although they will not look at any of the lures you offer, here and there you see one rising or " tailing " ; or it may be that a rapidly-moving upheaval of the water shows that a large old trout is rushing at a young one. The fish, or some of them, are obviously not altogether abstinent from food ; but the task of catching them passes the wit of man.
This may seem discouraging to any one who thinks of learning the science and acquiring the art of angling. Such an one may say to himself, " What is the use of trying if it is certain that among the results will be frequent failure ? Clearly, after all, angling does require a dull and stupid kind of patience." That is a superficial view. It is natural to any one who has either never used rod and line at all, or has done so, in a casual manner, only when among a party of sportsmen at some country-house ; but to the practised fisherman it will betray a lack of understanding. Paradoxical as the notion may seem, much of the fascination of the pursuit of trout, which never stales, springs from the knowledge that the pursuit will often be unsuccessful. Man, when critically he examines the habits and the interests of his leisure times, must realise that he is a being of strange complexity. He will cheerfully play billiards for an hour or so after dinner every night from youth until in old age the cue trembles in his hand; but if one of the incidents of penal servitude were the daily duty of playing plain against spot until one or the other was a thousand up the thought of gaol would acquire a new and harrowing horror. If bridge were not a voluntary dissipation, attractive because of the vague sense that there is a slight wickedness in gambling time and cash away, the card-rooms at the clubs, which are crowded every afternoon and evening, would always be as much deserted as Mayfair is between the Twelfth of August and the opening of Parliament. One may question whether even golf would be played so joyously by so many thousands if it were part of a compulsory system of physical training for the nation. Is not the analogy clear ? If one could always be sure of a heavy basket of trout, one would go, as a boy goes " unwillingly to school," unexpectant of any happiness, facing the hours as a day of tedious duty to be done. For all the entertainment to be hoped for, one might as well be setting out to sea to take in the cod and haddocks hanging on the lines which had been set the night before.